CIO Careers: Zero Budget + Happy Users = Influential IT

What does a CIO need to be successful? We each have our own answers. Some may say that technical excellence and knowledge count most, others might place the emphasis on business awareness, relationships or just hard-core ambition. Certainly, all of these are necessary to reach a certain level in an organization. But to take the final step and be accepted as someone who is truly a member of the C-suite, you need one more thing: influence. This is the fifth in a series of articles on how to position yourself as an influential leader in your organization. The first installment was CIO Career Killer: Lack of Influence; the second was CIO Careers: Why IT Gets No Respect; the third was Winning Over Business Users When You Don’t Have a Dime; the fourth was CIO Careers: Measuring Your Credibility.

While you are working on last week’s “assignment” and figuring out how much credibility you have within your IT organization, it’s time to turn the discussion back to jumping IT budget hurdles.

IT budgets are tight and they are likely going to get tighter as corporate America battens down the hatches for another recession. But, truth be told, this happens to be an unlucky coincidence. You can expect to face tight budgeting environments a number of times over the course of your career as a successful CIO.

Businesses, industries, countries and even whole economies go through cycles. When times are good, IT has the budget to undertake new projects. In lean years (which, for IT is usually half of the time, if not more) projects are scaled back or eliminated, and IT leaders struggle to engage stakeholders. You might as well use today’s economic environment to learn the ropes. It’s an skill set that will help prepare you to withstand future budgetary drought.

Substituting time for money

When we first looked at the issue of building influence when you haven’t got a dime, I proposed a basic approach, i.e., to shift your focus to investing time in place of money. It’s essential to regard your time, the time of your key people, as your most precious resource, one which needs to be carefully allocated to your company’s most important challenges and opportunities.

I know your next question. I get it all the time. It goes something like this:

“I would love to invest my group’s time on the key issues facing our company. But to do that, we need to meet and talk with our business counterparts. And the fact is that when we haven’t got a project to discuss with them, it’s nearly impossible to get their attention. What are we suppose to talk with them about without a project and budget? How are we supposed to engage the user community when all we have to offer is our time?”

It’s a fair question and often a real problem for many IT leaders.

The good news is that there is a solution; one that not only gets you and your team the time and attention of your business colleagues, but will also enhance your influence throughout your enterprise.

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