Skills Of A CIO – Within Reach Of A Strategic PM?

This post looks at whether there is a typical path to CIO – or what it needs to include. Next it looks in more depth at the typical roles that can help build the skills and background that lead to becoming a CIO. Then it focuses on strategy and project management as careers that can lead to CIO – but with a careful strategic approach. Finally, the post discusses whether and how a CIO role might even lead to CEO.

Is There a Typical Career Path to CIO?

skills of a CIOThis post queries whether a Chief Information Officer (CIO) position might be a good and realistic goal for a project manager. It and extension of a prior post which asked if the CEO role might be within reach of a PM.

We’ll come back to that later after surveying the landscape. Let’s just start by looking at a typical career path to CIO.

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all path to becoming a CIO, there are common patterns and experiences that many successful CIOs share. Here’s a typical path to the CIO position:

  1. Education – Often a BS in computer science, information technology, management information systems, or a related field. Advanced degrees such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS) deepen knowledge and skills in business and technology.
  2. Entry-Level IT Roles – CIOs often start their careers in entry-level IT roles such as help desk support, system administration, programming, or IT operations. These roles provide foundational experience and exposure to various aspects of technology and IT operations.
  3. Progression to Mid-Level Roles – With increasing experience and expertise, shoot for mid-level IT roles such as network administrator, database administrator, IT project manager, or IT manager. These roles involve more responsibility and leadership in managing IT systems, projects, and teams.
  4. Leadership Development – Seek opportunities to develop leadership skills and gain experience in managing people, projects, and budgets. This may involve taking on management roles, leading cross-functional teams, and participating in leadership development programs.
  5. Specialization and Expertise – Consider developing expertise in specific areas of IT such as cybersecurity, cloud computing, data analytics, enterprise architecture, or IT governance – not particularly project management. Specializing can distinguish you and provide valuable expertise for addressing organizational challenges and driving innovation.
  6. Broadening Experience – In addition to technical expertise, acquire a broad understanding of business operations, strategy, and industry trends. That can come from seeking opportunities to work in different departments or industries to gain diverse experience and perspectives.
  7. Strategic Roles – Transition to strategic roles such as IT strategy consultant, business analyst, or enterprise architect. These roles involve collaborating with senior leadership to develop and implement technology strategies that align with business objectives.
  8. CIO or IT Director Positions – Serve in roles such as IT director, VP of IT, or Chief Technology Officer (CTO). These roles provide experience in managing IT departments, developing technology strategies, and aligning technology with business goals.
  9. Executive Leadership Development – Participate in executive leadership development programs, seek mentorship from senior executives, and pursue certifications or advanced education in areas such as IT management, business strategy, or leadership.
  10. Appointment as CIO – CIOs typically report to the CEO or another senior executive and are responsible for leading the organization’s technology strategy, operations, and innovation initiatives.

While this path to the CIO position is common, it’s important to note that career paths can vary significantly depending on factors such as individual goals, industry, organization size, and market trends.

The path is also not necessarily linear! Aspiring CIOs should be proactive in seeking opportunities for growth, development, and advancement that align with their career aspirations and organizational goals.

What Are Typical Roles that Can Lead to CIO?

Now let’s go just a little deeper into specific roles that can lead to a CIO position.

There are several information technology (IT) roles that can serve as stepping stones to a CIO position. These roles provide valuable experience and skill development that are highly relevant to the responsibilities of a CIO.

Here are some common roles that can lead to a CIO position:

  1. IT Manager/Director – Oversee the day-to-day operations of an organization’s IT department. They are responsible for managing IT staff, infrastructure, projects, and budgets. This role provides experience in IT leadership, strategic planning, and managing technology initiatives.
  2. IT Project Manager – Responsible for leading and coordinating IT projects from initiation to completion. They oversee project teams, manage budgets and timelines, and ensure that project objectives are met. This role provides experience in project management, stakeholder communication, and delivering technology solutions.
  3. Enterprise Architect – Design and oversee the implementation of an organization’s IT infrastructure and systems to ensure alignment with business goals and objectives. Develop technology roadmaps, assess new technologies, and provide guidance on IT strategy and governance. This role provides experience in strategic planning, technology architecture, and enterprise-wide IT initiatives.
  4. Business/IT Strategy Consultant – Work with organizations to develop and implement technology strategies that support business objectives. Assess technology needs, identify opportunities for improvement, and recommend solutions to drive innovation and efficiency. This role provides experience in strategic planning, business analysis, and stakeholder management.
  5. Chief Technology Officer (CTO) – Oversee the development and implementation of an organization’s technology strategy and roadmap. Lead technology teams, evaluate new technologies, and ensure that technology initiatives align with business goals. While CTOs focus primarily on technology innovation and operations, the role can serve as a natural progression to a CIO position, especially in organizations where the CTO is responsible for both technology strategy and operations.
  6. Information Security Officer (ISO) – Develop and implement an organization’s information security strategy and policies to protect against cybersecurity threats and ensure compliance with regulations. This role provides experience in cybersecurity, risk management, and regulatory compliance.
  7. IT Governance/Compliance Manager – Oversee the development and implementation of IT governance frameworks and processes to ensure that IT investments align with business objectives and comply with regulatory requirements. This role provides experience in IT governance, risk management, and regulatory compliance.

Overall, roles that provide experience in IT leadership, strategic planning, technology management, and business alignment are valuable stepping stones to a CIO position.

It’s essential to gain a diverse range of experiences and develop skills in areas such as leadership, communication, strategic thinking, and business acumen to successfully transition to a CIO role.

Additionally, networking with senior IT leaders, seeking mentorship, and pursuing relevant education and certifications can further enhance your readiness for a CIO position.

Strategy As a Path to CIO

Advancing from a strategy position to a Chief Information Officer (CIO) position typically requires a combination of relevant experience, skills development, networking, and strategic career planning.

Here are some steps you can take to position yourself for advancement to a CIO role:

  1. Gain Relevant Experience – Start by gaining experience in roles that provide exposure to both technology and strategic decision-making. This could include roles such as IT strategy consultant, business analyst, project manager, or IT manager. Seek opportunities to work on cross-functional projects and initiatives that involve aligning technology with business objectives.
  2. Develop Technical and Leadership Skills – Continuously develop your technical skills in areas relevant to IT leadership. These include enterprise architecture, cybersecurity, cloud computing, data analytics, and emerging technologies. Additionally, focus on developing leadership skills such as strategic thinking, communication, decision-making, and team management.
  3. Obtain Advanced Education or Certifications – Consider pursuing advanced education such as a Master’s degree in a relevant field (e.g., IT management, business administration) to deepen your knowledge and enhance your credentials. Additionally, earning certifications in areas such as project management (e.g., PMP), IT governance (e.g., CGEIT), or cybersecurity (e.g., CISSP) can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to professional development.
  4. Seek Mentorship and Guidance – Identify mentors within your organization and industry who have experience in IT leadership roles, including CIOs. Seek their guidance and advice on career development, gaining insights into the skills, experiences, and challenges associated with the CIO role.
  5. Network and Build Relationships – Build a strong professional network within the IT industry, including attending industry events, joining professional associations, and participating in networking groups. Establishing these relationships can provide valuable opportunities for mentorship, career advancement, and access to potential job opportunities.
  6. Demonstrate Strategic Impact – Look for opportunities to demonstrate your ability to drive strategic initiatives and create value for the organization through technology. This could involve leading projects that improve operational efficiency, drive revenue growth, enhance customer experience, or mitigate risks.
  7. Position Yourself as a Thought Leader – Contribute to thought leadership within your organization or industry by sharing insights, presenting at conferences, publishing articles, or participating in industry forums. Establishing yourself as a trusted advisor and subject matter expert (SME) can enhance your visibility and credibility as a potential CIO candidate.
  8. Stay Agile and Adaptive – Remain agile and adaptable in your approach to career advancement, as the IT landscape continues to evolve rapidly. Be open to exploring new opportunities, taking on challenging assignments, and continuously learning and growing to stay competitive in the job market.

By proactively pursuing these steps and demonstrating your readiness for IT leadership, you can position yourself for advancement from a strategy position to a CIO role.

It’s essential to approach career advancement strategically and be patient, as reaching the CIO level often requires a combination of relevant experience, skills development, and networking over time.

Project Management as a Path to CIO

Whether becoming a CIO is a good objective for you as a project manager depends on various factors specific to you – such as your career goals, skills, and aspirations.

Here are some considerations to help you evaluate if pursuing a CIO role aligns with your objectives:

  1. Career Goals – Determine if your long-term career goals align with the responsibilities and expectations of a CIO role. CIOs typically have strategic oversight of an organization’s technology infrastructure and play a crucial role in driving digital transformation initiatives. If you’re passionate about technology leadership and innovation, aiming for a CIO position could be a good fit.
  2. Skills Development – Assess if you have or can develop the necessary skills and expertise required for a CIO role. While PM skills are valuable, you’ll also need strong leadership, communication, strategic thinking, and business acumen skills. Seek opportunities to develop these skills through relevant experiences, training, and education.
  3. Career Path – Evaluate if the career path from project management to CIO is viable within your organization or industry. In some companies, progression from PM to executive leadership roles like CIO is common and encouraged. In other cases, you may need to transition to different roles or gain additional experience before being considered for a CIO position.
  4. Industry Trends – Stay informed about industry trends and developments in technology, business, and leadership practices. Understanding how emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and data analytics impact organizations can help you position yourself for a CIO role.
  5. Networking and Mentorship – Build a strong professional network within your industry and seek mentorship from experienced CIOs or technology leaders. Networking can provide valuable insights, guidance, and potential opportunities for career advancement.
  6. Personal Considerations – Consider how pursuing a CIO role aligns with your personal values, lifestyle preferences, and work-life balance. Executive leadership positions often come with increased responsibilities, stress, and time commitments, so be honest about whether you are prepared for the demands of the role.

Ultimately, whether aiming for a CIO role is a good objective for a project manager depends on individual circumstances and aspirations. It’s essential to carefully evaluate your goals, skills, and the opportunities available to determine if pursuing a CIO position aligns with your career path and ambitions.

Can a CIO Position Be a Steppingstone to CEO?

I mentioned early in the post about my previous post on the possibility of transitioning from a project manager to a CEO. Well, a natural question would be since CIO seems accessible to many PM’s. could there be a path to advance from CIO to CEO?

As it turns out, the CIO role can indeed be a good stepping stone to the CEO position.

But it’s not guaranteed and depends on various factors including individual aspirations, skills, and organizational context.

Here are some reasons why the CIO role can serve as a valuable stepping stone to CEO:

  1. Strategic Leadership – Today, technology plays a critical and increasingly pivotal role in driving business strategy and innovation. CIOs are responsible for aligning technology initiatives with overall business objectives, making strategic decisions about technology investments, and driving digital transformation. Developing and demonstrating strategic leadership skills as a CIO can be highly relevant to the CEO role.
  2. Business Acumen – Successful CIOs possess a deep understanding of both technology and business. They must be able to translate technology capabilities into business value, assess the financial implications of technology investments, and communicate the strategic importance of IT to executive leadership and stakeholders. Strong business acumen acquired as a CIO is essential for transitioning to a CEO role.
  3. Cross-Functional Collaboration – CIOs often work closely with other executives and departments across the organization to drive digital innovation and business transformation. Building strong relationships and collaborating effectively with colleagues in areas such as marketing, finance, operations, and sales can enhance leadership capabilities and broaden the skill set needed for a CEO position.
  4. Change Management and Transformation Experience – CIOs are frequently involved in leading organizational change and transformation initiatives. They must navigate complex challenges such as culture change, process redesign, and talent development to successfully implement digital strategies. Experience in change management and transformation as a CIO can provide valuable preparation for leading an organization as CEO.
  5. Board and Stakeholder Engagement – CIOs often interact with the board of directors, external stakeholders, and industry peers to provide insights on technology trends, risks, and opportunities. Developing strong communication, presentation, and relationship-building skills with diverse stakeholders can increase visibility and credibility, positioning CIOs for executive leadership roles such as CEO.
  6. Technology and Innovation Expertise – In today’s business landscape, technology and innovation are key drivers of competitiveness and growth. CIOs are uniquely positioned to drive innovation and leverage emerging technologies to create value for the organization. Demonstrating expertise in technology and innovation as a CIO can be highly valuable for assuming leadership of the entire organization as CEO.

The CIO role can provide a solid foundation for transitioning to the CEO position. One critical aspect is continuously building a strong network, seeking mentorship, and actively pursuing leadership development opportunities. These actions can enhance the likelihood of successfully making the transition from CIO to CEO.


This post looked at whether there is a typical path to CIO – or what it needs to include. With that background, it looked in more depth at the typical roles that can help build the skills and background that lead to becoming a CIO. Then it looked at strategy and project management as functions that can lead to CIO – but with a careful strategy. Finally, the post looked at whether and how a CIO role might even lead to CEO.

What thoughts do you have on the CIO role and how it relates to your career?

The following is and excellent starter video (5 min) by CIO Career Coach Martha Heller, of Heller Search Associates and CIO.COM contributor:

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