9 qualities of a successful CTO

A chief technology officer (CTO) is an executive responsible for defining an organization’s technology strategy and leading its technology team. This position is similar to her CIO (Chief Information Officer), but the CTO is specifically focused on researching new and existing technologies that are strategically important to the organization.

Despite the title, the CTO role requires more than technical expertise. His CTO, whom I spoke with, said his soft skills are just as important as his ability as a leader. According to the technology leader in her CTO role within the organization, here are her nine key attributes of a successful CTO:

focus on people

CTOs typically don’t work independently. They are part of a team of technology professionals whose purpose is to help organizations use technology effectively. It is important to be able to put together a team that can withstand change and challenges. In order to build a strong team, the CTO must judge character well.

“Without great people, everything is ten times harder,” says Mark Long, CTO of Vytalize Health, a digital services provider for healthcare providers. “Be as diligent with your hiring process as you would with any other system or security program.”

Part of leading a team is mobilizing people to align with the vision of the company and the CTO. “Great people want to work and grow with other great people,” says Long. “We are in a very dynamic industry. Today, at most, what makes someone great is that he only has a 12-month lifespan, so build a learning culture and prioritize leadership in talent development. need to do it.”

Nicola Morini Bianzi, Global CTO of consulting firm EY, said: “Human ingenuity, resourcefulness, and diversity of experience, combined with mastery of the technological tools of the time, have never been more important in our quest,” he says.

To attract and retain top talent, technology executives need to focus on the organization’s ambitious mission and how employees can make an impact, says Bianzi.

Anticipate technology trends

No one expects CTOs to be fortune tellers, but they should have a strong sense of what’s going on in the tech market. Her excellent CTO anticipates what is likely to happen in terms of new products, features and challenges to be addressed.

Aron Brand, CTO of CTERA, a cloud-based offering, said:

“Successful CTOs have a deep understanding of their industry, anticipate future developments, and keep an eye on the latest advances in technology,” says Brand. “This allows them to make informed decisions about which technologies to invest in and which to avoid. Whilst we have the foresight to understand the long-term implications of our decisions.”

Kevin McInturff, CTO of Logility, a provider of demand planning software for supply chains, said: “If we are content with old patterns, we will not be able to meaningfully participate in these newly emerging opportunities. We must always question our assumptions,” he says.

good communication skills

This attribute appears on nearly every list of traits that matter to executives, and for good reason. The ability to communicate clearly with fellow executives and team members is essential to ensure project completion and organizational technical goals.

“The most important attribute of a successful CTO is the ability to tell a great story,” says Brand. “Technology is complex and can be difficult for many people to understand, but a CTO with good communication skills can transform this complexity into an engaging, informative and compelling narrative. I can.”

By being a good storyteller, CTOs build trust and credibility with stakeholders and help everyone better understand the value of the technology they’re developing, says Brand.

CTOs should be able to speak in a language that business leaders understand. “To be effective as a CTO, translating your ideas and perspectives and presenting the truth in a relevant way is key to success,” he says.

“You can be the best technologist or strategist in the world, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t communicate those strategies in a way that speaks to your audience.”


Change is constant in technology and business in general, and CTOs need to be flexible in all aspects of their role. That includes how staff are managed.

Eric Reeves, CTO of Anaqua, a company that provides software for managing intellectual property, said: “The shift to remote work has given companies more choice in how they manage, retain, attract and grow their talent, and flexibility has become a key asset. , can and want to work virtually. Recognizing this desire has been essential to being agile as an employer, especially in a highly competitive market.”

With a global workforce that can work from anywhere, organizations need to adapt and take advantage of it, Reeves said. “For example, we expanded our global footprint and adopted hybrid work options before the pandemic,” he says. “Not only did it give employees the tools and opportunities to succeed remotely, but it also provided the office his resources for colleagues to stay connected with each other.”


Flexibility is essential in the CTO role, but it must be balanced with discipline, says Reeves.

“Technology planning and technology migration can take a long time,” says Reeves. “Time from investment to investment [return on investment] It may vary depending on the type of investment. Strong technical leaders need to know when to stay on course and stay disciplined, even when there is little or no short-term gain. ”

CTOs also need to know when to turn around and act decisively. “Part of this is understanding that technology leaders need to be part of the intelligent guidance rather than dictating direction,” he says. “Focus on the business outcomes and goals your organization has set. Knowing when and how to advocate forcefully is part of the dynamics of flexibility with discipline.”


CTOs are tasked with keeping abreast of new technologies that are still in development or in the conceptual stage, but must deal with pragmatism, prioritizing practical applications over intellectual or idealistic approaches. may occur.

“CTOs need to be pragmatic because the most important business decisions are rarely neatly packed into one ideological answer,” says McInturff.

“Having the ability to quickly sort through conflicting priorities, relationships and client needs to find a solution that best balances these, and that this is not the answer that best matches what you personally prefer.” It’s important to understand that there is a difference,” says McInturff.

focus on results

Success as a CTO is best defined by the impact executives have on the most important business metrics, Long says.

“Too many CTOs fall into the trap of being ‘implement this platform’ or ‘build feature Y’ takers,” says Long. “But designing technology is not the job of company leadership or the customer. CTOs need to look for ways to innovate and create value. We get credit for delivering the desired results, and achieving this requires a design thinking approach.”

First, the CTO should consider the problem each stakeholder is trying to solve. “Read between the lines,” says Long. “Take the time to understand the business domain you are working in, create a vision, and get buy-in. Then communicate in the language of those groups. You need to know if you’re doing what you’re doing.”

technical depth

Long says it’s impossible to be an expert in all technologies, or even just a small part of the technology market. However, a background in very detailed and hands-on technical work is key to having the skills of problem decomposition and analysis to go very deep if necessary.

“Whether it’s a vendor trying to whitewash a product or an internal team stuck, we need to keep asking questions to peel back the layers of complexity in order to get to the true essence of a problem, system, or need. there is,” says Long. “Your job isn’t to know all the answers. It’s to keep asking questions to uncover hidden opportunities and gaps in your team’s thinking.”

A CTO wouldn’t be in a position to ask important questions without spending a lot of time in the weeds, says Long.

Thinking of change

The technology department has historically changed from an isolated function to an integrated business that is key to the organization’s growth and survival, says Bianzi. Along with this trend, the role of the CTO has also changed.

“In many ways, technology has moved from the ‘back office’ to board agendas and priorities, and this requires a shift in the CTO’s approach,” says Bianzi. “I have seen this in my own career when I became the first technologist to join the EY board.”

The company’s services require a lot of intelligence and expertise, so “not using technology properly to deliver these services puts you at a disadvantage,” Bianzi said. say. “Having strong technical skills is not enough. Understanding the business side is critical to a successful digital transformation.”

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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