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For professionals looking to advance their cybersecurity career and make it to the executive level, technical skills and managerial experience alone aren’t enough to make it to the top.

Cybersecurity is a business issue, not just a technology issue, and those who make it to the C-Suite must have the necessary leadership, operational and strategic skills to fulfill the role.

“Cybersecurity professionals get to the C-Suite through individual performance and managerial performance,” says Deidre Diamond – founder and CEO of national cybersecurity staffing company Cyber Security Network (CyberSN) and founder of the not-for-profit, thought-leadership platform #brainbabe. “Either they’re coming up from the tech side of things and moving into business or they’re coming up strictly from the business.”

For more of Diamond’s advice on navigating the path to cybersecurity success, check out her interview above.

After years of fighting for bigger budgets and a voice in boardrooms, cybersecurity teams are finally getting much-deserved attention in organizations and a spot in the C-Suite, whether it’s as CIO, CSO or CISO.

  • CIOs (Chief Information Officers) typically report to the company’s CEO and sometimes have a seat on the executive board. It is the CIO’s job to head up an organization’s IT department, set overall strategy, put plans in place to implement that strategy and communicate the effectiveness of their department’s work to the rest of the executive management team.
  • CSOs (Chief Security Officers) focus solely on the organization’s IT security concerns, and must possess expertise in both preventing data breaches and managing them when they occur. Most CSOs have a background in cybersecurity and demonstrable leadership skills.
  • CISOs (Chief Information Security Officers) understand the vision and strategy of the enterprise and make sure the security posture and policy line up accordingly. There’s no single way to become a CISO, but it’s important to have the right combination of education, experience and skills to get there.

Getting the Right Degree for the C-Suite

Most companies require an undergraduate degree at minimum for an executive role in cybersecurity, and a master’s degree is encouraged, according to Certification Magazine.

“It’s all about experience and the majority of [cybersecurity executives] must have a degree,” Diamond says. She explains more about what it takes to climb the ladder in cybersecurity in the video Getting to the C-Suite, shown above.

Depending on your background, you should consider obtaining an MBA or master’s degree in cybersecurity:

  • An MBA with a cyber-related specialization is one of the most popular graduate degrees and it’s common among executives. It provides a broad education across multiple business disciplines including communication, finance, management, policy and compliance.
  • A master’s degree in cybersecurity provides a technical education that dives deep into the information security field and is devoted to theoretical and practical training.

Professionals also have the option to pursue cybersecurity technical certifications.

Experience that Paves the Way

Making it to the C-Suite in cybersecurity career requires years of experience and strong performance as an individual and manager. Aspiring executives should look for leadership opportunities and get on the path to management.

Managing people and projects is just the start. Remember, executives deal with high-level business strategy. As you take on leadership roles, make sure you understand the organization’s goals and how security and technology support that vision. This requires an eagerness to learn about business functions outside of your regular responsibilities.

Mark Aiello, president of Cyber360 Solutions, offers the following advice in DarkReading, “If you’ve spent most of your career outside the nitty-gritty, hard-core IT security world, spend more time learning about the tactical side – the day-to-day tasks of securing a business. If you are from a heavy technical background, learn as much as you can about the business side. Understand the problems your technology is there to solve.”

Skills that Matter Most

Education, experience and strong technical skills certainly have value, but you won’t make it to the C-Suite without soft skills.

C-level executives must communicate effectively with other executives, board members and shareholders, as well as employees. They often have to persuade others, explain complex technology, interview job candidates or speak to the press. Developing these interpersonal skills now will help in the long run.

Being a CISO or CIO is a big responsibility that goes way beyond technical aptitude. It requires a strong understanding of all aspects of business and how security fits into each area. Each path to the C-Suite is different, but the requirements are the same.

Start your journey to executive-level management today and find out how you can earn a degree in cybersecurity.

Article Name
What It Takes to Be a Cybersecurity Executive
For professionals looking to advance their cybersecurity career and make it to the executive level, technical skills and managerial experience alone aren’t enough to make it to the top. Learn more about the soft skills you’ll need to round out your resume.