Tech leader image


• Jul 03 2023

What makes a great tech leader?

4 min read

If you’re trying to fill a technology leadership role, you’ll know the job title, but not every business knows what a tech leader should be. Is it a technologist who can also lead? Is it a leader who knows about technology? Like many answers, it depends.

That is why we put the question to our own leaders in technology and C-suite talent — what makes a great tech leader?

The tech leadership qualities that your business needs

Stuart Wilson, RPI UK & Europe Regional Lead Client Partner and Founder, argues that much of what makes a great technology leader is the same as what makes any leader great.

‘I would say the soft skills are at least 60% of what they need. It’s a matter of skills, but also of, adaptability, and emotional intelligence. You can learn new skills — it’s much harder to change a mindset.

The technology-specific elements of leadership are hugely dependent on the industry, the company, and the state of that company’s development.

‘Let’s say a company has 180 people. Somebody may have a Chief Technology Officer title, for example, but they’re going to have to be very very hands-on, with an entrepreneurial mindset. Someone who has only worked somewhere with a massive structure behind them, may not have the skills required. I personally believe you’re either a small company person or a big company person.’

Chris Baker, RPI ANZ & Pacific Regional Director, picks up on some of the realities of tech leadership in a larger company.

‘It’s not sufficient any more to be a tech leader who’s only great at technology. They need a ‘techno-commercial’, emotionally intelligent leadership style. The really good tech leaders understand strategic decision-making. They foster the right culture, they understand stakeholder engagement. The days of the hardcore bullish IT person are gone.

‘Of all the critical skills, number one is stakeholder engagement. Even if you love your team and your team love you, but you don’t talk to the rest of the business, you’re going to fail. Internal Net Promoter Scores are something that boards look at quite heavily — how you engage and work with other departments and other teams is critical, because tech is integrated into everything.

‘Now, it’s not viable in a large company to have the CIO personally engaging with every stakeholder, and that’s where fostering the right culture comes in. Gone are the days when you could believe ‘We’re IT and everyone else is rubbish. You have to be agile, working in concert with product owners, not in a silo. Tech leaders should be defining some of the business strategy through the ‘art of the possible’.

Julian Frankum, RPI MEA Regional Lead Client Partner and Founder, echoes the importance of that commercial sensitivity.

‘The ‘ones and zeros’ CTO who understands technology but doesn’t understand the business side is a thing of the past. They need to understand how to selectively acquire digital strategies that can very quickly show an ROI.

‘That’s also got to be balanced with an understanding that while technology can move at a thousand miles an hour, sometimes business processes can’t.That means they believe in the power of technology and digital strategies, but not to adopt them for the sake of it.’ 

How to secure the best tech leadership for your business

In Stuart’s words, ‘Obviously, talented tech leaders are always in demand’.

The first step, of course, is finding the talent that you need. The next stage is attracting them to join your business. That’s where you need some expert guidance.

RPI’s deep roots in technology and executive search give us a unique advantage in sourcing leaders and transformative talent. Our multi-sector heritage means that we have an unrivalled global network of experts whether they’re steady hands or radical visionaries. Get in touch today to find out how we can bring them into your business.


RPI provides access to the top leadership and technology talent globally