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4 Steps to Becoming a Strategic CIO

by Aware

Just four steps can transform IT from a cost center of a business into an enabler that drives innovation through strategic leadership. 

In today's ever-changing business world, it's increasingly important for CIOs to become strategic leaders. The role of the CIO is no longer just limited to managing IT infrastructure, but also to help drive innovation and align IT with wider business goals. As you consider the trajectory of your career as an IT leader, keep these four steps in mind to develop the skills of a strategic CIO. 

Step 1: Realize you're accountable for everything 

As a CIO, you are accountable for everything that happens within your IT organization, good or bad. Everyone from your colleagues to the board of directors is looking to you to set direction and steer the organization along the right path. That means you need a constant awareness of what is happening, both internally and externally, that can present new risks or opportunities to the business. 

Keeping your accountability in mind and viewing decisions through that lens helps you to see the bigger picture and understand how your choices impact the bottom line. Being accountable is an essential attribute of a strategic CIO. 

Step 2: Develop your expertise 

To become a strategic leader, you need to develop your expertise in all areas. You must understand the different dynamics of your IT organization, and know the challenges faced by all the teams under your leadership. As a CIO, you need to be able to have technical discussions and challenge your people to make a positive impact on the business. 

Aspiring CIOs often don’t want to hear this, but really understanding and learning each discipline across the IP realm is critical to becoming an informed, strategic leader down the line. Once you have a firm grasp of all the different IT functions and how they work independently and collectively to protect and support the enterprise, you can leverage that knowledge to push the envelope. 

Step 3: Learn when and how to innovate 

As a strategic CIO, you can’t lose sight of the big picture. Know when to innovate is just as important as knowing how. It's not about following every new fad and trend, but about pushing the organization forward. How are you keeping your company safe and secure? As CIO, you need to protect your brand and corporate assets, but also drive change and take advantage of new opportunities. 

Don’t just accept the status quo. In your career, you’ll be challenged by people who have been in their positions for decades, who want to do things the way they’ve always been done and resist you at every step. Strategic CIOs think about what moves the needle for the company. By embracing new opportunities, they can enable other departments and leaders, transforming IT from an expensive necessity to a source of new insights and workflows that drive growth. 

Step 4: Understand how your business runs 

No leader can innovate without a solid understanding of how the business runs. Having a holistic view of the company as a whole can help you find funding for your projects and make the best decisions for your organization. 

This involves developing a greater understanding of all the functions of the business beyond IT. How does the company make money? What matters most to your customers? What challenges are your colleagues facing in marketing, finance, sales, and other departments? To achieve your aims for the IT organization, you have to consider the impact elsewhere. What projects are you asking your colleagues to shelve in order to facilitate yours? 

By being innovative and understanding the business, you are able to protect your brand and corporate assets from risk and gain the trust and support of coworkers who can enable your goals. 


Every CIO comes to the position in their own way, but these four steps will guide you on the path to becoming a more strategic leader who can transform IT from a necessary evil to an innovation hub for the entire organization. The role of a CIO is continuously evolving, and being a strategic CIO can help you stay ahead of the curve and make your mark as a visionary in your organization. 

Aware supports strategic leaders by consolidating the risk management and opportunities of digital transformation into a single, centralized platform. Using Aware’s collaboration intelligence insights, modern CIOs can leverage real-time feedback from across the organization, enabling faster, smarter decisions for every function. 

How Innovative CIOs Create a Human-Centered Organization