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  • Writer's pictureRamel Lee

The Role of the Chief Security Officer

The Chief Security Officer (CSO) is an executive level manager that has the responsibility of setting the security goals and objectives of an organization. The importance of security is ever more present to companies today than in the past. The proliferation of terrorism and cybercrime has made securing a company’s assets a top priority, therefore requiring someone with executive level knowledge, skill, and experience to lead the security effort within the organization.

The CSO needs to have particular qualifications, suitable for an executive level position. CSO’s should have knowledge in administration and management, personnel and human resources, customer and personal service, law and government; skills should include judgement and decision making, complex problem solving, critical thinking, speaking, coordination, emotional intelligence; and abilities needed are oral and written comprehension, oral and written expression, deductive reasoning, speech clarity and recognition (Occupation Profile, 2015). In addition to those general executive level qualifications a CSO would need expertise in the field of security or protection services. Knowledge in subjects such as security systems (electronic and physical), risk management, and critical infrastructure protection. CSO task may include negotiating contracts with security related vendors and procuring security-related equipment (Fay, 2011). When hiring a CSO, organizations will look for evidence of this expertise by way of industry credentials from organizations such as the American Society of Industrial Security and the International Security Management Association or a Master’s Degree in Security Management.

The CSO will influence the overall HR process of an organization. The CSO will make a determination on whether it would be most beneficial to the organization to hire employees to perform security functions or to contract out security functions. If the decision is made to hire employees, the CSO will be involved in the hiring process. The CSO will create the job description for a security related job, perhaps conduct the technical portion of the interview, and be a part of the final decision making process (Fay, 2011). CSO will also be involved in the HR process of current employees. The CSO may be the policy maker for issues involving workplace violence and the termination of employees (Fay, 2011).

In a vertically structured organization, the CSO will most likely be a level below the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Finance Officer (CFO), and Chief Operating Officer (COO) (Fay, 2011). It will be the CSO’s job to map the security goals of the organization with the corporation’s overall mission. The CSO will act as an advisor in security matters to the CEO (Fay, 2011). The CSO must foster a culture of security importance throughout the organization. The security practices of the entire organization is in the hands of the CSO (Fay, 2011).

Security is an important component in the system of any organization. Failure to have effective security management will eventually expose vulnerabilities in the other components within the organization. The role of the CSO is to responsible for the security management of the organization, by using their knowledge, skills, and abilities to set the goals and objective that will ensure the efficient protection of an organization’s assets while staying within the boundaries of the organization’s agenda.

Traits of Leadership

In a position such a Chief Security Officer, leadership skills are fundamental to the success of the department’s mission. Being viewed as a good leader will go a long way in achieving “buy in” from subordinates and superiors alike into your vision of what the security department should be. The head of security has to exercise strong leadership when setting the vision for the security group (Fay, 2011). Being achievement oriented, open-minded, and tenacious are three of the most important characteristics of a leader.

Being achievement oriented is an extremely valuable trait to have as a leader in the security field. If you’re achievement oriented, that means you establishing a vision for your security department and laying out goals for your subordinates to meet in order to see that vision come to fruition. Building a vision is a first step in creating a reason for others to follow (Fay, 2011). Your subordinates will not trust your direction if they feel there is no vision. Goals being established gives people an opportunity to display their talents and add value to the security operations.

Recognizing talent will help a leader be more open-minded. Open-mindedness is a difficult trait to carry as a leader. Usually, if you’re in a position of leadership, you expect people to look to you for the answers. Leaders do not have to be the smartest person in the room. However, being open-minded will allow you to hear the smartest ideas. Gathering different perspectives is a key element to critical thinking. An effective CSO looks for good people from many backgrounds with different points of view and encourages feedback (Fay, 2011).

Tenacity is an infectious trait. A tenacious leader will inspire his followers to be committed to the mission. Having a determined leader encourages vigilance, which is an important trait of all security personnel. Employees do not mind working hard for a boss that they know works hard themselves. A CSO can bring excitement, challenge, and enjoyment to the jobs, which can energize and motivate his staff (Fay, 2011).

A trait not mentioned by Fay, but I think is probably the most important, is integrity. Everyone wants to work for or with a person they believe will always do the right thing. Subordinates are more willing to “fall on the sword” for a leader that they know will do the right thing. Having a boss that will allow you to be disciplined for their error is an unpleasant feeling for an employee. It discourages thinking and decision making by employees, which eventually diminish the value of the security operation. Integrity is a key component of reliability, and reliability will gather followers even amongst those that don’t agree with your vision (Fay, 2011).

Integrity, tenacity, open-mindedness, and being achievement oriented are just a few of the many traits that make up a good leader. Being a good leader is a learned skill that is developed consciously. No one just becomes a good leader, it is something that you must consistently work on to reach a CSO level.

Emotional Intelligence

Hours of boredom, seconds of madness is a phrase sometimes used to describe the job of security. In an environment where you’re constantly waiting for something to happen, keeping employees motivated is a necessary skill. Emotional intelligence, knowing your people and what buttons to push, is a useful leadership trait. Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs can help you zero in on what will motivate your employees to remain vigilant and professional.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs states that there are six needs that determine human behavior (Fay, 2011). Those needs are physiological, the basic requirements for living (food, water, air); survival, to be free from harm; love, affection and human relationships; self-esteem, competence and prestige; self-fulfillment, the exercise of personal capabilities; and curiosity, satisfying a thirst for understanding (Fay, 2011). The needs of your employees must be satisfied in the respective order. As you move up the hierarchy of needs, the less people have that need to be satisfied. For example, everyone needs food and water, but not everyone has a thirst for understanding. By addressing the needs in order, the further along you move, the less individual needs you’ll need to address.

As a CSO you’ll need the emotional intelligence to properly address your subordinate’s needs. The employee worried about physiological needs are most likely worried about financial compensation. Opportunities to increase or earn extra income will motivate such an employee. If that is not feasible, perhaps getting HR to conduct some financial planning classes can help. An employee that is worried about safety, providing them with good personal protective equipment could be the key. Love, is a need that can be fulfilled by allowing an employee to participate on team projects. Awards or an appropriately timed pat on the back could fulfill someone’s need for self-esteem. Self-fulfillment can come from making an employee a team leader or implementing one of their suggestions. The employee that has the need of curiosity to be filled can possibly be satisfied by sharing the future plans of the company or explaining why certain policies or procedures are in place.

However, there must be a process in assessing and addressing employee needs. Employee appraisals is an effective way to accomplish this. Employee appraisals allow for a give and take in labor-management that allows both parties to express the goals they wish to accomplish. In such a setting, a manager can learn what buttons to push to motivate an employee.

The emotional intelligence required to motivate an employee is a learned skill. You have to be able to consider the employee’s point of view, along with your own, and map both against the mission of the organization. Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs can give you a foundation in recognizing what needs your employees may have at a particular time, in order to know how to motivate them. Keeping an employee motivated will go a long way in achieving success in your overall security program.

Works Cited:

Fay, J. (2011). Contemporary security management (3rd ed.). Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Occupation Profile. (2015). The State of Minnesota. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from security officer

Author: Ramel Lee, MSSM (pictured below)

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