Traits of Top-Performing CISOs

CISOs are responsible for supporting a rapidly evolving set of information risk decisions.

Only 12 per cent of chief information security officers (CISOs) excel in all four categories of the Gartner CISO Effectiveness Index, according to a survey by Gartner.

Gartner analysts presented the survey findings and discussed the traits of top performing CISOs at its recent virtual summit for North Amercia and EMEA.

Sam Olyaei, research director at Gartner believes today’s CISOs must demonstrate a higher level of effectiveness than ever before.

“As the push to digital deepens, CISOs are responsible for supporting a rapidly evolving set of information risk decisions, while also facing greater oversight from regulators, executive teams and boards of directors,” he said. “These challenges are further compounded by the pressure that COVID-19 has put on the information security function to be more agile and flexible.”

Gartner’s measure of CISO effectiveness is determined by a CISO’s ability to execute against a set of outcomes in the four categories:

  • Functional leadership
  • Information security service delivery
  • Scaled governance
  • Enterprise responsiveness

Top performing CISOs demonstrate five key behaviours

Of the factors that impact CISO effectiveness, Gartner revealed five behaviours that that significantly differentiate top-performing CISOs from bottom performers. On average, each of these behaviours is twice as prevalent in top performers than in bottom performers.

“A clear trend among top-performing CISOs is demonstrating a high level of proactiveness, whether that’s staying abreast of evolving threats, communicating emerging risks with stakeholders or having a formal succession plan,” said Olyaei. “CISOs should prioritize these kinds of proactive activities to boost their effectiveness.”

The survey also found that top performing CISOs meet with three times as many non-IT stakeholders as they do IT stakeholders.

Two-thirds of these top performers meet at least once per month with business unit leaders, while 43 per cent meet with the CEO, 45 per cent meet with the head of marketing and 30 per cent meet with the head of sales.

CISOs have historically built fruitful relationships with IT executives, but digital transformation has further democratised information security decision making, added Daria Krilenko, senior research director at Gartner.

“Effective CISOs keep a close eye on how risks are evolving across the enterprise and develop strong relationships with the owners of that risk – senior business leaders outside of IT,” she said.

Effective CISOs Are Better at Managing Stress

The survey also found that highly effective CISOs better manage workplace stressors. Just 27 per cent of top performing CISOs feel overloaded with security alerts, compared with 62 per cent of bottom performers. Furthermore, less than a third of top performers feel that they face unrealistic expectations from stakeholders, compared with half of bottom performing CISOs.

“As the CISO role becomes increasingly demanding, the most effective security leaders are those who can manage the stressors that they face daily,” said Olyaei. “Actions such as keeping a clear distinction between work and nonwork, setting explicit expectations with stakeholders, and delegating or automating tasks are essential for enabling CISOs to function at a high level.”

Gartner clients can read more in “CISO Effectiveness: A Report on the Behaviors and Mindsets That Impact CISO Effectiveness.”



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