The role of the chief information security officer (CISO) is maturing as organizations' technological needs and risks become greater and multiply, according to the 2023 Global Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) Survey, recently released by Heidrick & Struggles.
For this report, organizational and compensation data was compiled from a spring 2023 of 262 CISOs around the world. Most had the title of chief information security officer, but respondents also include chief security officers and senior information security executives.
A separate survey conducted by Heidrick & Struggles revealed 76% of executives said they were very or entirely open to changing companies in the next three years, underscoring the importance of succession planning and an increased focus on retention strategies.
The importance of the CISO role continues to grow as digital technologies, particularly artificial intelligence, become even more prevalent and concerns about cyberattacks, such as ransomware, rise. When it comes to organizational risk, 46% of CISOs cited artificial intelligence and machine learning as most significant, followed by geopolitical risks (33%) and cyberattacks (19%), which include ransomware, malware, insider threats, and nation/state attacks. More than half of respondents said they believe that the most significant cyber risks that pose a threat today will not be the same five years from now.
In addition to technological advances and more sophisticated threats, CISOs also face increasing pressure to stay ahead of the curve, leading to stress and burnout — which remain top personal concerns for CISOs year over year, as evidenced by 71% of respondents who identified stress related to their roles as their most significant personal risk — an increase from 59% in 2022. 54% identified burnout as their most significant personal risk, up from 48% in 2022.
To address this, organizations should prioritize succession plans and/or retention strategies to prevent CISOs from exiting unnecessarily. According to the report, 80% of respondents agree that, within their roles, they are able to invest in leadership and development to build or enhance team capabilities.
The survey sheds light on the fact that companies are now seeking to broaden their horizons, venturing beyond traditional industry-and IT-specific criteria when selecting CISOs. They are actively searching for the most qualified executives for the role, with a focus on diversity in terms of gender, race or ethnicity, as well as industry and functional expertise.
While the role of the CISO is increasing in importance, many organizations aren't prepared for the long run. The survey found that 41% of respondents say their company does not have a succession plan in place for the CISO role, though more than half of those that do not have a plan are developing one.
Furthermore, the survey reveals that while over half of respondents expressed a belief that their corporate board possesses only partial or no knowledge and expertise required to effectively respond to cybersecurity presentations, only 30% of CISOs currently sit on a corporate board, which in an increase from the 14% who said the same in the prior year.
Compensation trends by region
United States: Similar to previous years, U.S. CISOs generally report the highest compensation. For CISOs in the U.S., reported median total cash compensation increased 6% year over year, to $620,000 in 2023. Median total compensation, including any annualized equity grants or long-term incentives, also increased, up to $1,100,000 this year.
Europe: The average total cash compensation for CISOs in Europe was $457,000. Average total compensation, including any annualized equity grants or long-term incentives, was $552,000. As in the United States and Australia, those in the financial services industry reported the highest average total cash compensation, at $623,000. In Europe, those in healthcare and life sciences reported the lowest. Average annual equity/LTI was highest for those in technology and services.
Australia: The average total cash compensation for CISOs in Australia was $368,000. Average total compensation, including any annualized equity grants or long-term incentives, was $586,000. As in the United States and Europe, those in the financial services industry reported the highest average total cash compensation, at $501,000.