On the surface, the responsibilities of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) might appear to be fairly straightforward. As the technical expert in the C-suite, they are typically tasked with working alongside their organization’s management, IT department, and cybersecurity team to oversee and maintain the security of the enterprise’s information, including hardware access, cloud applications, data storage and more.

But the job description for CISOs is rapidly changing, in part because of the growing digital footprint of the average enterprise and the increasingly important role that data plays in the decision making process at companies of all sizes. According to Wavestone’s 2024 leadership survey, the percentage of data leaders saying that their organizations had “established a data and analytics culture” increased from 21% to 43% in just the last year alone. Add in the potential economic impact of generative artificial intelligence – which McKinsey pegs at up to $4.4 trillion annually – and the importance of data and information security comes into sharp focus.

Simply put, cybersecurity is no longer the sole purview of the CISO and their team; it impacts operations and revenue across departments. Today’s most effective CISOs are those who can deftly navigate their evolving role while championing broader organizational influence and improving cybersecurity awareness throughout the organization. In order to keep pace with the rapidly-developing risk landscape, enterprises need to be continuously improving their cyber posture, and accomplishing that requires a CISO with substantial reach and influence across departments. In practice, best-in-class CISOs employ several strategies and tactics to succeed in this new landscape.

Building Cross-Functional Partnerships: Today’s CISOs understand the need to collaborate with other departments – including IT, Human Resources, Legal, and Compliance – in order to align broader security efforts with the organization’s overall strategy. By building strong relationships with these key stakeholders, the CISO can ensure that security is considered in decision-making processes and integrated into various functions outside of their traditional sphere of influence.

Identifying and Developing Champions: Part of this partnership-building process involves identifying and nurturing so-called “security champions” throughout the organization who are passionate about cybersecurity and can help advocate for security initiatives within their respective departments or teams. Providing them with additional training and responsibilities can help amplify their impact.

Empowering the Security Team: Effective CISOs are also those who invest in developing their own team’s skills in communication, influence, and education. By extending their influence beyond the CISO as an individual, a well-equipped security team can better support the organization’s broader security goals and create greater impact.

Evangelizing Security Culture: Ultimately, training only goes so far. Employees across the organization need to take ownership of their own information security rather than relying on the CISO’s team to pick up after their mistakes. CISOs should proactively promote a culture of security within the organization, including regularly communicating the importance of cybersecurity, sharing success stories, and emphasizing how security ties into overall business objectives. Leading by example and making security a part of the organizational DNA is crucial, empowering the entire team to act as force multipliers in overall security hygiene. Effective CISOs must be thought of on the front-end of strategy discussions. Knowing what the business, technology, or other constituents are trying to achieve is critical. This allows the CISO to help achieve these goals while adhering to security measures.

With these fundamental building blocks in place, effective CISOs should also look to enact more actionable policies to anchor and build on this new culture of security. Cyber threats continue to evolve rapidly and CISOs need to ensure that all constituents are regularly updated to address emerging risks and trends. Continuous improvement is essential to keep employees informed and vigilant.

  • Education and Training: CISOs must invest in comprehensive cybersecurity education and training programs for all employees, covering best practices, the latest threats, and the importance of security to the organization. Offering a variety of learning resources such as workshops, webinars, and online courses can help cater to different learning styles. This should include regular awareness testing, such as phishing simulations, to assess the organization’s vulnerability to social engineering attacks and provide educational feedback to employees to help them recognize and respond to potential threats.
  • Tailored Training for Prevalent, High-Risk Attacks: Focus on providing specialized training and support to employees who may have limited knowledge about cybersecurity (and thereby present the greatest risk). By tailoring training to address the specific needs and challenges of these individuals, CISOs can help raise the overall security posture of the organization and limit its exposure to risks such as phishing.
  • Measuring and Reporting: Clear metrics and KPIs are needed to track the effectiveness of any security awareness program. The right data can also be used to report on progress to senior leadership in order to demonstrate the value of these initiatives to the organization. It is key to re-evaluate what is being measured along with the actual results. KPIs often remain intact and can become obsolete. These must be tailored to predict outcomes with constant evolution.
  • Board Engagement: Finally, the board of directors needs to fully understand the organization’s cybersecurity posture and the risks involved in order to support these efforts. CISOs should be prepared to communicate security matters in a way that resonates with board members’ interests and concerns.

The job description of the CISO is evolving faster than other roles, and the best performers today are those with the ability to influence, evangelize, and advocate for security across departments and teams. It is no longer enough to focus solely on the technical aspects of cybersecurity, but instead about fostering a culture of security, education, and awareness throughout the organization.

The intangibles matter most. CISOs which are effective communicators and influencers will be best positioned to help build a strong foundation for cybersecurity in their organizations, resulting in better risk management, a stronger security posture, and positive results on the bottom line.

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