4 Essential Skills for Modern CISOs to Succeed

CISOs are integral to the security environment in multiple ways, and soft skills are critical in their success

As cyber-risks became a business issue, the role of CISO in an organization has changed. The modern CISO is now more than just a department head, responsible for implementation and management of security controls.

As a C-level executive, their role is now made up of two crucial and equally important elements. The first is to enable the organization to achieve its business goals, such as releasing better products faster than competitors, looking attractive to stockholders and increasing revenue. The second is to be a cybersecurity pro and minimize the risks of cyberattacks that could threaten the business.

Getting this balance right requires not only excellent security expertise and awareness of the latest technology trends, but also a set of “soft” skills. To help today’s CISOs succeed in their roles, here are four key skills to focus on.

CISO Soft Skills

Business Acumen

Traditionally, the CISO was responsible for developing a defense plan based on their company’s IT landscape. This strategy is now insufficient, and the modern approach needs to better align with the business vision. That is why almost every CISO job advertised not only requires detailed IT security knowledge and a list of certifications, but also a business mindset.

As a result, CISOs cannot dismiss or prohibit a technology that their business would like to implement. They need to evaluate the risks associated with it and propose the most secure strategy that will not impede organizational progress. If staff need to have access to corporate resources from their devices, the CISO now needs to implement a BYOD policy on the network.

In the words of one acting CISO, a best practice involves advising others to become a risk manager as well as offering assistance and guidance to the business: “Before introducing any new technology in any department, I conduct meetings with those departments to ensure that their changes are not going against our security norms. Then we make the required changes so as to have proper integration with our network.”

Communication and Presentation Skills

Being an executive involves interacting with the C-suite and the board of directors. But as very few top managers have a security background, it can be a challenge to have concerns fully understood by this audience without using IT jargon.

Although the ability to present complex ideas in an easy-to-understand manner has long been a vacancy cliché, the skill of translating cybersecurity language into business terms can bridge this communication gap. It may also help when it comes to a major headache facing every CISO: justifying IT security budget.

As the cybersecurity budget is often part of overall IT expenditure, money can be prioritized for IT projects that demonstrate evident business profits and ROI. Communication skills, including the ability to tailor information to a non-technical audience and create strong arguments, can prove that benefits far outweigh the costs.

Crisis Management Expertise

According to a recent Kaspersky Lab report, 86% of CISOs think cybersecurity breaches will happen eventually, meaning that businesses cannot afford to be unprepared. Every office has an evacuation procedure in case of a fire. Likewise, a company should have a strategy for when a breach happens, as panic and disorganization can only worsen the situation.

An action plan is not limited to changing passwords or recovering systems. To eliminate the attack quickly, it is essential to figure out who is responsible for certain actions and identify key contacts in other departments to inform first. These can include legal, PR or customer success teams, who in turn will be able to take part in resolving the crisis. If a breach happens, it is essential the CISO remains aware throughout an incident and becomes a link between stakeholders. They should coordinate the information security team in their incident response activities, inform the business and advise on how to resolve the situation.

Supervisory and Leadership Know-How

With 62% of CISOs agreeing that there is a shortage in cybersecurity talent, it is becoming difficult to find qualified security specialists. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as a bigger concern is employee retention. A scarcity of security specialists means that those in the field have many job opportunities being offered to them constantly. As one CISO explained: “I’m a manager of very talented cybersecurity specialists, who are targets of multiple head hunters.”

The lack of IT security labor force also increases the workloads of current staff, causing additional concern for security leaders. With a plethora of projects to always be done, are burnouts as inevitable as cybercrime?

Avoiding high turnover and low employee morale is now a responsibility of CISOs. As CISOs have a direct influence on security personnel, they must possess strong leadership skills. They should work to be a leader who people can follow, be a mentor who can support a team and be a motivator that can encourage employees.

Motivation isn’t limited to monetary incentives. It may include granting more decision-making authority, learning and professional development possibilities and even positive recognition of one’s hard work. What works perfectly for one person may not suit another, so to be an effective manager CISOs must choose the optimal incentive or source of motivation for everyone on their team.


It’s clear that the CISO’s role is challenging, requiring a unique combination of soft skills and technical expertise. To be effective, a CISO must develop a business mindset, effective communications skills and a broad IT understanding along with strong management and leadership qualities.

While technical skills previously formed the foundation of this role, soft skills are key factors of the job today, and mastering these abilities will help ease the balance of skills needed in the future. With the rise artificial intelligence-powered defensive tools on the market that aid the fight against cybercrime, many wonder whether robots will someday take IT jobs and fully replace humans. The day might come where machines have better cybersecurity expertise than any human and be able to solve technical tasks, but if CISOs have advanced soft skills then their roles will continue to remain a necessity for businesses in the future.

Maxim Frolov

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Maxim Frolov

As Managing Director of Kaspersky Lab North America, Maxim Frolov is responsible for leading North American sales, marketing, and business development functions and for achieving the company’s objectives for growth in market share and profitability in the region. Maxim also serves as Vice President of Global Sales for Kaspersky Lab, in which he manages the company’s sales operations across five business segments – consumer, digital, SMB, enterprise and xSP – and leads a team of regional managing directors to ensure efficient business processes, as well as strengthen the company’s sales culture. In his previous position as Managing Director for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META) region, which he held from 2016-2018, Maxim demonstrated strong leadership and drove the region to terrific business results. Maxim has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry, with a solid track record across multiple businesses and geographies. Maxim graduated from the Space-Engineering Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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