leadership feature

The highest-paid CIOs in Canada are earning about $80,000 more than the lowest-paid, and that gap is growing. What gives them the edge, and how can you get up there with them?

Boosting your salary as a CIO involves a mixture of short-to-mid-term political positioning and longer-term planning, say experts. Here’s how it breaks down.

CIO pay in Canada is going up. In 2016, recruitment firm Robert Half expects it to rise by 4.2 per cent on average, hitting between $165,500 and $245,000. That’s a decent pay package, beating chief security officers and chief technology officers, but it also represents a pretty broad spectrum. One thing is pretty consistent, though: CIO compensation comes in straightforward dollars. While CEOs and chief financial officers may get a mix of base pay and stock-based incentive packages, that isn’t the case for technology leaders in the C-suite.

A CFO these days might see up to 60 per cent of her payout in long-term incentives such as stock options, according to executives at global executive search firm Boyden. CIOs don’t see the same kind of action, reckons Debbie Bottineau, senior regional vice-president at Robert Half.

Data from Robert Half International
Data from Robert Half International

There are some incentives. “Not necessarily stock, but more tied to performance of the organization, so discretionary bonuses,” she said. This might bump pay up by a relatively small amount compared to heavy hitters in the boardroom. “So it’s primarily base plus an average of 10 per cent based on company performance and other key measurables,” Bottineau said.

Getting strategic

What can CIOs do to add more cash to their base rate and make that performance bonus count? They have to work for companies that understand the strategic nature of IT, argued Ian Collyer, a partner in the Toronto office at Boyden. Technology used to be seen purely as a cost centre, he said, but things are changing.

“Technology is important in how they deliver and drive their business, and sell their products, how they evaluate and analyze their business,” he said. “It’s becoming strategic to all aspects of their business.”

That’s the case across various sectors, including traditionally IT-friendly ones like consumer retail and financial services, but also ones that have historically invested less in IT, like industrial, he believes. “Now, technology is optimizing your production line.”

That has given the CIO more traction in the boardroom, he suggested. “The CEO used not to pay that much attention to the CIO. That’s changed.”

To capitalize on that, though, CIOs have to step up and meet the challenge. That involves developing collaboration skills that will take them across different disciplines within the business. They must be able to co-operate with leaders in departments ranging from legal, through to HR and marketing. Each of these disciplines has its own way of communicating and working together, warned Bottineau.

Ready for change?

Because companies are now looking at technology as a game changer for their business, there are lots of opportunities for it to drive change, she added. That creates a need for aggressive CIOs who can steer entire businesses through those stormy waters.

“They must demonstrate an ability to manage teams throughout complex change and lead problem solving initiatives,” she said. As part of this, they’ll be forced to manage complex business issues that affect overlapping disciplines. There’s a lot of plate spinning, and a need for a politically savvy CIO who understands that leadership isn’t about merely dictating, but listening and enabling.

This means that CIOs hoping to further their careers should look for those companies that are ripe for change, and for CEOs willing to help make it happen. A sympathetic team with an appetite for technology improvement is vital here. You’re unlikely to get too far ahead if you keeping picking employers who just want someone to keep the lights on and the engines running.

Discrete projects

Project-based work can present some useful opportunities , Bottineau added. Going for bounded gigs with identifiable outcomes can look great on your résumé – as long as you deliver on them.

“If you want to diversify your experience and participate in leading -edge tech initiatives, then maybe you parachute into a couple of organizations to come in on a contract basis,” she said. The contract market is mainly hot for operations staff such as software developers, but there are still opportunities for strategic players.

Finally, raising your profile as a CIO across the industry is a good way to build a brand and set yourself up for better-paying gigs.

The journey to higher salaries is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes careful political positioning, an intimate understanding of the business you’re in, and the ability to empathize with others from disciplines other than your own. Are you a bridge-builder and a strategic thinker? Do you have what it takes to take your CIO career to the next level?



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