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The Top 10 Qualities of a Successful CISO

The Top 10 Qualities of a Successful CISO

A successful chief information security officer (CISO) needs to wear many hats. CISOs need to manage risk, protect their company’s data, and oversee its security infrastructure. But that’s not all: A successful CISO also needs to have certain qualities that set them apart from other leaders in the field. This article will outline the top 10 qualities a successful CISO needs to have.

What Is a CISO?

A CISO is a senior executive responsible for developing and implementing an organization’s information security program (Gupta, 2021). These programs are designed to protect a company’s data from unauthorized access or theft. A CISO’s responsibilities include managing risk and ensuring compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and standards.

Qualities of a Successful CISO

Though the specific qualities of a successful CISO may vary depending on the organization, there are several key characteristics that all CISOs should possess. These qualities allow them to excel in their role and protect their organization’s data and systems. Let’s take a look at some of these qualities.

1. They have a technical background.

CISOs must have a solid technical background and understand how technology can be used to protect data, networks, and systems. They should also be familiar with current threats and vulnerabilities, as this enables them to design and implement a security infrastructure that is effective and up to date.

A CISO can gain this quality by taking courses in information security, attending conferences, and networking with other industry professionals.

2. They’re good communicators.

CISOs are good communicators and can clearly convey security concerns to senior management and other stakeholders. They also know how to translate complex security concepts into language that non-technical personnel can understand.

Communication skills can be learned through public speaking courses, writing workshops, and practice (Dagostino, 2021).

3. They’re organized.

Organizational skills—in particular, the ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously—are essential for CISOs. A CISO needs to have a clear vision for their security program and the ability to implement it on schedule. The capability to set and meet deadlines is crucial, since many security projects require quick turnarounds.

The best way for CISOs to improve their organizational skills is to create a system that works for them and stick to it. This may include using a task manager, calendar, or planner.

4. They can manage people effectively.

CISOs are highly skilled at managing and motivating teams of security professionals as well as engaging other members of the organization. They understand the importance of creating a positive work environment and providing adequate resources for their team.

There are many ways to manage and lead people. Some methods include providing clear direction, setting expectations, and being supportive. Leadership skills can be learned through books, online resources, and mentorship programs.

5. They’re ethical.

A CISO is ethical and follows best practices for information security. They also understand the importance of data privacy, including protecting the privacy of their organization’s employees as well as customers and clients.

There are many rules and regulations in the realm of information security. Industry compliance requirements and standards can provide excellent guidance on ethical behavior. A CISO can stay updated on these regulations by reading industry news, attending conferences, and networking with other professionals.

6. They’re proactive.

A successful CISO is proactive and takes steps to prevent cyberattacks before they happen (Dontov, 2021). They also make sure to keep themselves up to date on current threats and vulnerabilities and take appropriate action.

Being proactive means being prepared for potential threats and having a plan to deal with them. This can be done by regularly updating the organization’s security infrastructure, conducting risk assessments, and training employees to spot common cyberthreats, such as phishing attempts.

7. They’re resourceful.

Knowing how to get the most out of limited resources is necessary for any CISO. A good CISO understands that not all organizations have the same budget for security and is able to prioritize according to their company’s needs.

This quality can be developed by understanding how to use various security tools effectively, including incorporating open-source software and free online resources when appropriate.

8. They’re innovators.

A good CISO is innovative and always looking for new ways to improve their organization’s security posture. They are willing to experiment with new technologies (though always maintaining a careful balance with potential security risks).

Innovation can be fostered by attending conferences, reading industry news, and networking with other professionals. It can also be encouraged at the organizational level by allowing employees to explore their creativity and experiment with new ideas.

9. They think strategically.

CISOs think strategically about the security of their organization. They understand the importance of aligning their security needs and requirements with their company’s business goals and ensure that security decisions are consistent with the organization’s overall operations and vision.

This quality can be developed by taking courses in strategic planning, business administration, and information security. It is also essential for CISOs to understand the distinctions between various types of cyberthreats and how different cyberattacks can impact the organization.

10. They can successfully manage risk.

Assessing and mitigating risks to the organization is a key skill that all CISOs should have. A CISO understands how to balance the need for security with the need for business continuity, making risk management a critical skill for CISOs. As a CISO becomes more experienced, they will be better able to identify and handle risks. A successful CISO can manage crisis situations, stays calm under pressure, and has experience dealing with data breaches, system outages, and other emergencies.

This experience can be gained by working in various industries, testing security tools, and participating in risk management forums. Once a CISO becomes more familiar with the types of risks their organization faces, they can develop risk management strategies that meet their company’s specific needs.

How to Become a CISO

As the digital world continues to evolve, the role of a CISO is becoming increasingly important. If you’re interested in a cybersecurity leadership role, there are many things you can do to prepare.

EC-Council is a leading provider of information security education and offers a variety of programs that can help future CISOs launch or further their career in information security—in particular, the Certified CISO (C|CISO) certification.

The C|CISO program covers five core domains of information security management:

  • Governance, risk, and compliance
  • Information security controls and audit management
  • Security program management and operations
  • Information security core competencies
  • Strategic planning, finance, procurement, and third-party management

Studying these domains, which are essential for any CISO, means that C|CISO-certified professionals have a well-rounded understanding of a security executive’s role in an organization.

Those wanting to become a CISO must start by developing the qualities to ensure success and getting involved in the information security community, including seeking out opportunities to gain professional and volunteer experience.

Pursuing the C|CISO certification shows organizations that you have the skills and knowledge necessary to be a successful cybersecurity leader. For more information about EC-Council and the C|CISO certification, visit the C|CISO program site.


Dagostino, A. (2021, October 5). Five ways to communicate more effectively as a leader. Forbes.

Dontov, D. (2021, May 12). The CISO: How this role has transformed in the modern cybersecurity world. Forbes.

Gupta, D. (2021, August 17). The role of a CISO in building a modern cybersecurity culture. Forbes.

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