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Five Essential Management Skills for C-Suite Executives

2020 February 19
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP
C-Suite Executives

Success, or failure, in business is the result of the management of a great many forces which bear upon an organization. One role of executives is to manage these forces, anticipate change, and steer the organization and its business units in the direction that best serves the institution’s mission and its stakeholders.

To do that successfully, it is my opinion that executives need five basic management competencies. Not all executives are good at all of these competencies, in fact, most have strengths and weaknesses like any professional person. But executives have been elevated to high positions most likely because they possess all or most of these in some measure.

Risk Management

I have come to believe that perhaps one of the most essential skills of the successful executive is the management of risk. The skill of risk management extends beyond the silos of business practice. CFOs must understand and mitigate financial risks to organizations, while CIOs manage risks related to information technology systems and data. Executive boards must seek out evidence that executives know and understand the risks to an organization, and that they are actively managing those risks using the best available practices.

Relationship Management

This one has many names. Daniel Goleman’s “emotional intelligence” may fit here. The competent C-Suite executive must be able to manage a variety of relationships – with employees, colleagues, board members, vendors, shareholders, creditors, donors and the public. Success in relationship management doesn’t mean making all of these people happy all the time, but it does mean earning their respect for having the ability to understand each of their unique perspectives, and weaving these into the fabric of the business in a way that “raises all ships”. When these relationships are not well-managed and they get out of balance, businesses fail.

Money Management

As I built this list, I asked myself if this one should be “resource management” instead. After some thought, I think not. Money is the resource that matters. Money is the tiller that steers the organization. Better yet, it is the thrusters. Too much thrust on one side of the ship can send it careening off into space. Money is the road to finding efficiencies, and inefficiencies. Every manager should be able to balance a budget, but a C-suite executive should be a “spreadsheet whisperer”. Managing money is about more than the bottom line. It is understanding the power of money and where to best apply it, or remove it.

Time Management

I once worked for a senior executive who was incensed by email responses that were non-essential. For instance the “OK, Thanks!” or “I will check on that and get back to you”. He had determined that these types of emails were a significant drain on his time. They added to his email inbox and he had to deal with them, yet they had little value. He knows you are thankful. He knows you will check on it, that’s what he just asked you to do and that is your job. The C-suite exec should pay attention to time management. There is, after all, only so much of it. Is this blog post too long?

Crisis Management

I once worked with a Chief Security Officer from the Southern United States – the great State of Georgia. He used to say that his job was to protect his organization from “the acts of Satan and the laws of Murphy”. I always admired his ability to so succinctly articulate his role in the organization. I recently finished a research project on the perceptions of readiness for cybercrises by C-suite executives in IT. Most thought they were ready, but empirical evidence showed otherwise. The entire C-suite should have a plan and a system for managing crises. They will come, some say in ‘threes”. That is one of the Laws of Murphy.

I may write about these individually at some point. But this post serves to document what I believe are “Five Essential Management Skills” for C-Suite executives.

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