The vast majority of CTOs are in their element when solving technical problems or wading through complex algorithms and beautifully indexed code. But as any experienced IT recruiter will tell you, many of the sharpest technical minds tend to find other parts of the job – speaking in public, clearly communicating their vision, managing clashing personalities in a team – much more challenging.
If you want to succeed at CTO level, it’s often these soft skills that are sorely lacking and are worth seriously brushing up. The good news is that most CTOs face the same set of challenges and require the same combination of skills if they want to thrive in their role. We’ve identified five of the most important:
As well as a solid ability to communicate complex technical concepts to stakeholders and colleagues, CTOs also need to be able to explain the role technology is likely to play in other departments. Why do things work the way they do? Why are some features not as essential as non-techies may imagine? A decent CTO can explain their reasoning to everyone in the company, from the least technically minded to the sharpest member of the IT team.
Listening skills are often overlooked but just as vital. You need to fully comprehend what’s needed on both the business and development sides, get your head round any challenges – with product performance or development issues, for example – so you can clearly feed them back to all concerned. Make sure you test that people are genuinely understanding what you’re saying, and be prepared to rephrase as much as needed to ensure that’s the case.
Outstanding CTOs tend to be exceptionally curious life learners, eager for new experiences. The very best are constantly soaking up information on new technologies that might be worth investing in, making continuous judgement calls about which to take a punt on and which are more likely to be passing fads.
The most thorough CTOs are also interested in finance, marketing and any other aspect of the business that’s relevant to them, even peripherally.
Corporate environments can all too easily breed a culture of dehumanisation. How often have you heard colleagues referred to as ‘resources’ or ‘human capital’? The worst thing about this kind of language is the lack of empathy it encourages.
A top notch CTO will always try to put themselves in others’ positions, imagining what they’re dealing with, the pressures they might be under and desires that might be shaping their thinking. Cultivating empathy will ensure you can make the best decision for all concerned as far as possible.
Top CTOs are able to wear both their technical and executive hats with ease, shuffling between the two with barely a thought. A successful CTO can inspire their technical team to work effectively and enthusiastically towards a shared vision, helping them through any tough technical issues that might arise.
On the executive side, they’re capable of taking an active, essential role in board level discussions and communicating technical strategy to all involved.
Keeping an eye on the big picture
While technical detail is undeniably important, CTOs need to have just as strong a grasp of the broader environment technologies are operating in. This means everything from security and privacy policies to sales, marketing and the wider business landscape.
The best CTO knows technology never operates in isolation – it should obviously be your main focus, but lose track of the big picture and you’re missing an opportunity to push your organisation to the next level.