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16 Essential Skills And Traits Today’s CTOs Need To Succeed

Meet The Author

Steve Taplin

CTO Forbes Article

Many newcomers to the tech industry come in with the goal of reaching the C-suite as a CTO. They may be eager to share their personal expertise and vision for the technology tools, products and services their organization will leverage and introduce in the future. And while that’s certainly an ambition that goes to the heart of what a CTO does, the role today comprises much more than that. 

Tech professionals looking to advance in their careers need to be aware of what’s coming on the upper rungs of the leadership ladder. As senior leaders in the industry, the members of Forbes Technology Council are perfectly positioned to explain the many new responsibilities today’s CTOs are called on to handle. Below, 16 of them share some of the skills and strengths CTOs are expected to bring to their roles today that weren’t required just five to ten years ago.

1. The Ability To ‘Demystify’ Technology

With tech growing quickly, CTOs must demystify the subject for leaders to ensure that the business becomes the change catalyst for tech adoption. For example, we created a one-minute video of an RPA tool in action. The video showed the technology that was used to perform an invoice processing function. As our business leaders saw that, ideas flowed, and the transformation began! – Satya Jayadev, Skyworks Solutions, Inc.

2. Business Acumen

Not too long ago, technology was thought of as a cost center, and the primary function of the CTO was sustenance. Today, tech leaders play a critical role in the growth of an enterprise and nurturing its ability to disrupt. It’s essential for a CTO to develop an acute perception of the dimensions of their business vertical, be decisive and have cognizance of business challenges and the implications of choices. – Prasanna Singaraju, Qentelli

3. Commitment To Overall Company Goals

Today’s CTO must have the ability to really dive in and understand the business beyond the tech side. A good CTO needs to be able to collaborate and come up with creative suggestions that mesh with those of the key leadership group. This requires tech leaders to step outside their siloed department and focus on the overall company goals and mission. The key to this success is communication. – Ernie Bray, AutoClaims Direct Inc. (ACD)

4. A Broader Leadership Focus

There used to be a time that the CTO was hidden away ideating and coding all day. These days are gone. The CTO is now the inspirational technology leader for employees, clients, prospects and the industry. CTOs must embrace skills that many will feel are uncomfortable: coaching, empathy, supporting growth, public speaking and team leadership. – Kathy Keating, Ad Hoc

5. A Vision For Improving The Customer And Employee Experience

The role of CTO has transformed into that of an innovation thought leader. The CTO now needs to understand the customer journey and deploy technology for a better customer experience and employee experience. CTOs need to reduce technical debt and champion the adoption of new technology. The CTO now needs to lead the charter, building a resilient and sustainable supply chain ecosystem while ensuring the retention of the trust of stakeholders. – Gaurav Aggarwal, Avanade Inc.

6. Understanding Of Blockchain

The future will be all about blockchain, blockchain and more blockchain. Companies are increasingly seeking blockchain experience to either develop or lead development teams. This momentum will continue as companies align themselves to the new technology and establish how their process or product can utilize and/or benefit from the blockchain explosion. – Greg Young, Uniform Law Commission

7. An Eye On The Future

A successful CTO needs to be a strategist and a futurist at heart. While it’s most important to have outstanding technical skills and education, what elevates an ordinary CTO to a great one is their ability to think for the future. Only then will your tech company have the drive to grow fully into the future, with a focus on trendsetting horizons and transforming the industry. – David Gasparyan, Phonexa

8. HR Skills

Today’s CTO needs HR skills—not only in the management of people but also in recruiting and “employer brand management.” Since many organizations have made the move to tech-first through digitalization, this sometimes even results in the CTO becoming the CHRO. – Robert Weissgraeber, AX Semantics

9. A Focus On Companywide Digital Transformation

CTOs need to be strategic leaders for the entire business, not just the internal technology. In the current times of digital transformation and with the focus on the maximization of the end user experiences, the lines are now blurred between IT and other areas of the business. – Steve Taplin, Sonatafy Technology

10. Flexibility Around Technical Roles

Today’s CTOs cannot be stubborn about their technology stacks. With smart developers on board and mature technology implementation with containerization and microservices, there comes the opportunity to rewrite technical job profiles to hire for skill and aptitude. Therefore, overly broad, fanciful job descriptions such as “full-stack developer” need to change. – Amandeep Midha, BEC Financial Technologies

11. The Ability To Connect Tech Solutions To Day-To-Day Operations

Today’s CTOs are business leaders first and tech leaders second. They need a strong ability to inspire the organization by simplifying the narrative (converting tech jargon into business-speak that everyone in the company can understand), connecting the dots (what role tech solutions play in day-to-day business), and focusing on making life easier for colleagues (by enabling and empowering them). – Jit Papneja, Reynolds American

12. An Innovative Mindset

CTOs need to better understand the innovation process and how to create a culture of innovation—not just in the IT team, but within the greater organization. They should be seen as leading the charge to create an organization that brings a risk-balanced approach to change and is a center of excellence for staying in front of not just tech trends but industry trends as a whole. – Stacey Shulman, Intel

13. End-To-End Security Consciousness

Gone are the days where security meant just installing a firewall and antivirus software. Everything is now online, in the cloud and interconnected, and everyone is a target. CTOs are expected to have a security mindset that’s integrated through all phases of product development, operations, contracting and recruitment. – Adi Ekshtain, Amaryllis Payment Solutions

14. A Thorough Knowledge Of Their Industry

Deep industry knowledge is paramount for CTOs today. It gives them a competitive advantage and inspires trust in the team and in customers. It ultimately leads to company growth and the longevity of its services. Staying abreast of the latest news and current trends is the first step. Synthesizing the news and trends to predict the future becomes a mission-critical second step. – Olga V. Mack, Parley Pro

15. Cross-Functional Communication And Collaboration

One skill CTOs are expected to bring to their roles today that wasn’t required five to ten years ago is the ability to communicate, lead and collaborate cross-functionally—specifically with the sales and marketing functions. The pandemic permanently altered the DNA of sales and marketing, and CTOs who prioritize interdepartmental unification will be better positioned for success. – Mike Dickerson, ClickDimensions

16. Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal and communication skills are key. The CTO role is no longer simply about technical aptitude, but about how you can convey the needs of the business to non-technical colleagues and gain buy-in for the adoption of new technology. The ability to convey highly complex technical details in a manner that everyone can relate to is critical in advancing your tech career. – Amanda Dorenberg, COMMB

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