Every cyber security leader aspires to be a top performer. However, an industry analysis reveals that a mere 12% of cyber security leaders earn the distinction of being “highly effective”.

In this article, we’ll explore the key attributes that distinguish exceptional security leaders, empowering you to determine how to best convey your capabilities, hone your skills, and make an outstanding impact in the field.

20 characteristics of highly effective cyber security leaders

1. Technical prowess. Exceptional security leaders exhibit a nuanced technical understanding of the systems and technologies that they manage and safeguard. This knowledge is, of course, the bedrock upon which decisions and strategies are built.

2. Strategic thinking. After surveying the landscape in a new environment, security leaders need to take a strategic approach. From prioritizing risk assessments, to developing a comprehensive plan and engaging other departments, strategic thinking is crucial in order to stay ahead of hackers.

3. Hacker mindset. When security leaders understand how attackers think, the tools that they use, their approaches, and their favorite targets, it becomes less difficult to protect an increasingly complex attack surface.

4. Innovative. While maintaining a careful balance in relation to security risks, CISOs and cyber security leaders must be willing to explore and experiment with new technologies.

5. Adaptability. Given that threats evolve rapidly, adaptability is crucial. Highly effective leaders can quickly pivot, ensuring that preventative measures and defenses continuously remain updated, relevant and effective.

6. Resourcefulness. This quality can be developed by gaining knowledge around how to use security tools most effectively, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of those on the team, and identifying cost-saving measures.

7. Ethical mindset. Organizations that store sensitive data and/or personal information are obligated to ensure that ethical approaches are taken in regard to data loss prevention, reporting and compliance, among other things. Security leaders set the standards and need to be able to make ethical decisions.

8. Communication skills. Security leaders must effectively convey security concerns to stakeholders; from the board, to senior management, to rank-and-file employees. Good communication skills enable security leaders to make the importance of cyber security universally understood.

9. Proactive. This is a hallmark of a strong security leader. Proactive leaders address vulnerabilities preemptively, reducing the organization’s exposure.

10. Doesn’t assume. Effective leaders prioritize active listening, fact-finding, empathy and external perspective seeking in order to make informed decisions. By avoiding assumptions, security leaders create a culture of evidence-based decision-making.

11. Metrics-minded. Embracing a metrics-driven approach empowers leaders to adapt and refine security measures, ensuring a continuous push towards greater organizational security.

12. Increases ROI on security. Exceptional leaders in cyber security demonstrate a tangible return on investments, effectively communicating how investments translate into risk mitigation, cost savings and a stronger overall cyber security posture.

13. Introspective. Introspection helps ensure that actions and behaviors are not only consistent with one’s internal values, but that they’re also in full alignment with expectations and business needs.

14. Emotional intelligence. Security leaders can develop a more cyber savvy workforce by using emotional intelligence to address ‘the human factors’ that contribute to cyber risks.

15. Business acumen. Top cyber security leaders bridge the gap between cyber security and business by aligning security measures with the organization’s strategic goals; highlighting how security is an enabler of business success.

16. Inclusive. By creating an environment in which all voices are heard, leaders can create stronger cyber security plans and outcomes.

17. Ecosystem protection. Effective cyber security leaders recognize that an organization doesn’t exist in isolation and that its security is intrinsically connected to that of its vendors and partners. A comprehensive and collaborative approach here makes it significantly more difficult for cyber threats to get through.

18. Crisis management skills. Cyber crises are major challenges. To contend with such situations, leaders need to be able to make decisions, activate plans, and have teams execute in a timely manner and so much more.

19. Life-long learner. The best cyber security professionals are always “hungry” for new knowledge. A life-long learner approach enables security professionals to continuously attempt to remain ahead of cyber criminals, no matter how speedy, sleuthing and sophisticated they become.

20. Tenacity. Finally, modern CISOs need to maintain a tenacious or determined approach, as cyber security often lacks quick fixes. Thus, it’s essential that CISOs take the long view and continue protecting the organization, no matter how tough things get.

More information

In a digital landscape where the cost of security breaches is ever-increasing, the pursuit of leadership excellence is an imperative. By honing these characteristics, cyber security leaders can play an even more impactful role in safeguarding organizations.

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