Why CISOs need to be diplomats as well as strategic thinkers

CISOs have enough on their plates navigating demands from boards, the C-suite and business units without worrying about their style. But if they haven’t done so already it’s time they did, argues an associate professor in the department of computer information science at Minnesota State University.

Christophe Veltsos makes the argument in a blog that just like a foreign affairs official, CISOs have to be digital trust diplomats in their work.

“The currency of the diplomat is trust,” he reasons. “CISOs must be tactful in their negotiations and attempts at influencing without authority. They must also be strategic enough to realize that the way forward and upward for the business isn’t just about cybersecurity — it’s also about projecting a sound approach to protecting the data entrusted to the organization. Digital trust is critical to every organization’s future health.”

It works two ways: Not only does the organization have to externally project the image that it can be trusted with customer/partner data, internally employees have to understand their attitudes and choices will effect that reputation.

Accenture had a similar message in a report earlier this year on raising security awareness in the enterprise: “To build a culture of cybersecurity awareness, organizations should view state-of-the-art cybersecurity as an organizational mindset — one capable of continually evolving and adapting to counter changing threats. To foster a culture of cybersecurity and digital trust, organizations must emphasize an adaptive, evolutionary approach to addressing all aspects of security on an ongoing basis.”

That’s internally. To make his point about how outsiders see the organization Veltsos quotes another Accenture report which says “trust is the cornerstone of the digital economy. Without it, digital businesses cannot use and share the data that underpins their operations.”

Veltsos’ point is that CISOs — like any manager — need soft skills to do their work. These include the ability to build relationships, sensitivity, influencing, developing talent.

A few years back we wrote that “the most important soft skills tool is patience or, more specifically, the ability to count to five before speaking. Even if your instincts are correct and you want to blurt out a response to someone who is clearly off-track with a suggestion or request, that extra few seconds of down time can allow you to position your words with a civil and polite tone.”

It’s still worth remembering.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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