What to Look for in a CTO When You Need to Drive Change

key attributes of a Chief Technology Officer
Alex Curtis our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 09 April 2024

In our exponentially-accelerating digital age, where 22% of organizations are using AI, companies can’t afford not to keep up. A critical part of closing the gap between the traditional and the disruptive is to invest in a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). What key attributes do you need to look for?

Responsible for a wide range of activities, a CTO will oversee and manage things such as technology strategy, internal systems, tech innovation and product development.

A successful CTO will need to be well-versed in a range of different departments. These are the individuals that will push the organization forward into a new era of innovation.

So, where do they come from? What does their resumé look like? That’s the interesting part - many bold companies from more traditional industries have been successful in attracting talent from more technologically advanced and digital-savvy fields, such as payments, e-commerce, technology, and analytics vendors and gaming companies.

One example of this comes from the Hanover team, who managed to take the technology leader of a Formula 1 racing team and appoint him into a visionary technology leadership role with an asset manager.

What does a good CTO do?

In simple terms, the main responsibility of a CTO is to connect the tech with the vision of the company in a way that sets them apart from the competition.

Driving profits and pushing the boundaries of traditional tech, a CTO should be able to master everything from company infrastructure to cyber security.

Some of the critical facets of a CTO role include:

  • Compelling technology strategy and vision development 
  • Representing the technology department at the C-suite level 
  • A thorough understanding of how technology can achieve company objectives 
  • How to harness technology to achieve desired outcomes 
  • The curation of elite technology teams 
  • Organization design and operating model 
  • Mergers and acquisitions 
  •  Building a world-class tech culture 
  •  Using technology innovation to question the status quo and truly disrupt an industry

5 key attributes a CTO needs to have

The least-defined of all C-suite personnel, the roles, and responsibilities of a CTO can vary by industry, company size, and company maturity.

Aside from keeping a keen finger on the technological pulse, these are the five key attributes that any CTO should have…

1. Experience

It might sound obvious, but a CTO needs a wealth of experience behind them in order to appreciate all aspects of the business from a C-suite perspective.

A critical area of expertise to look for is internal transformations, as this will allow you to identify whether they could do something similar for you, and what that could look like. The CTO will also need to work with the CEO on strategy, meaning they should have strong all-around business expertise. This is critical for company-wide credibility.

2. Commercial Awareness

A broader business understanding coupled with technical acumen will make them a good fit for the board. Candidates will need to have a solid grasp of the wider business model, not just the technological aspects.

CTOs cannot be blinded by the latest new technology. They must understand how to harness technological innovations to deliver commercial objectives. You don’t want someone who just wants to play with the best tech and then struggles to make decisions on what’s best for your business.

3. Leadership Skills

The majority of technology leadership pivots around strong communication and influencing. CTOs must communicate technical goals to non-technical peers and team members, generating enthusiasm and buy-in.

CTOs are also required to hire and develop technical talent. They will be responsible for creating a culture in which people with technical roles can thrive in their careers. This also means creating a diverse team that will bring many different ideas to your organization. Don’t be scared to bring in someone from a different industry, as this can in turn brings diverse and innovative ways of thinking. Also, it’s important to remember that diversity doesn’t only mean gender and ethnicity, but diversity in how someone is thinking.

In short, a good CTO will know exactly what to do to get the best out of both their investments and their employees, no matter their backgrounds.

4. Collaboration Skills

Being able to manage stakeholders, budgets and resources are essential, as is developing interdepartmental teamwork.

The Chief Technology Officer is the public face of tech for the company, meaning they need to display their technical prowess to the business, customers, and external stakeholders. This is important for many different reasons, including talent search and retention, driving valuations with investors, and getting the best from vendors.

5. Cultural Compatibility

In the current climate, there is no time for a CTO to ‘settle in’ and adjust to the company culture; they must be a good fit from the get-go in order to hit the ground running and enact desirable change.

Beyond the skills and key attributes needed when hiring a CTO, the demand for top Chief Technology Officer talent is heating up and top executive career paths are on the rise. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the job outlook for top executives is anticipated to grow by 8% between 2020 and 2030. 

Find out how Hanover can help your business

If you’d like to discuss what a CTO can do for your firm, get in touch with me, and let’s schedule time for a call. At Hanover, we take the time to truly understands your unique recruiting goals and value proposition. By doing do, we're able to devise a customized market approach that will ensure you attract the best talent for our organization.

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