As a security recruitment firm, we are often asked to conduct searches to replace security executives who are about to retire. We often learn early on that there are no viable internal candidates. The expectations of the executive leadership teams together with the accountabilities placed on security departments dictate this should be a key measure of your success to prepare for the resiliency of the department. The disruption and the ability to effectively support your internal client should be on the top of your priority list regardless if the need is planned or unexpected.

Key areas to consider when you are constructing a strategy to address your successor and the replacement of other positions within your direct and functional organization include:

  • Focus on and have a department development plan.
  • Conduct a realistic and comprehensive assessment of internal talent.
  • Create mentoring and career development initiatives.
  • Put leadership accountability in place for your talent pipeline through consensus with senior level stakeholders.
  • Align your planning with business goals and values.
  • Create a culture of transparency across your teams and within the organization.


Indicators there are potential failure points in your succession strategies are:

  • Significant differences between your salary group and/or base compensation and those of your direct reports. I have seen gaps of well over $50,000 that suggests it is unlikely they will be viewed at the same management level as you. Most organizations will not increase a salary in conjunction with a promotion by more than 10-15 percent. Further, you do not want to be responsible for downgrading your role and those of your reports. It will send the wrong signal throughout the organization as to the importance of the position and may well result in downgrading the reporting structure.
  • You have done an excellent job identifying and hiring staff to perform a wide range of tactical activities in the security risk portfolio, but you have not implemented a career development plan that allows for improvement. Areas to be addressed are soft skills, cross-functional development beyond security-related activities and provision of chances to operate strategically with key leaders and managers to improve business acumen. Provide your team members the opportunity to develop relationships with your organization’s key and emerging executive management team beyond interacting with them on a security problem.
  • You have not documented all aspects of your function’s accountabilities and do not have well-developed job descriptions that can be used to identify those soft and professional skills needed to advance. Determine how you are going to execute individual development plans. These should be modeled along the same methodology used in the rest of the organization.
  • Allow and encourage your team to take on assignments (even if temporarily) outside the function and even outside the regions or countries they are assigned. Senior security executives hired by leading companies in the last ten years often have sought out and taken on roles well outside their comfort zone to better understand their organization’s business drivers. This gives them a competitive advantage and helps to build strategic relationships.
  • You have not given your team members accountability for high profile, high impact projects to improve their credibility and visibility with the leadership team. As appropriate, bring your direct reports to meetings with your boss and other senior leadership and encourage participation. It is more likely management will consider them as potential successors if they have more knowledge of them.
  • Engage in discussions with your boss and the HR representative responsible for organizational development concerning the rational, political and emotional dynamics of succession planning and evaluation of future potential within your company.
  • You have identified only one person you feel is an appropriate successor and do not have a backup plan. You will be unprepared if that person choses to advance their career by taking a CSO role for another company.

Use these indicators as a starting point for your career development and succession planning initiatives. Awareness of commonly observed pitfalls can help you maximize the effectiveness of your program. It will be beneficial in ensuring you have a talent pipeline strategy for your role that is aligned with your organization. It can also be used to view the needs of your entire function, assisting with its future success in your company.