Faculty Advisor: Building a Successful Security Business Team

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Q. I feel that our security department is generally thought of in a positive light in our company. However, I don’t think our business partners look at us as leaders within the company. Any advice how to turn this around?

The security lead, and security team members, all need to play leadership roles for security to be effective across the organization. A well-formed security team has members with areas of expertise and ability who are prepared to address and resolve the full spectrum of security issues. To determine how you and your team “measures up” depends on answers to these questions:

  • Is your security team tactically or strategically driven…or a combination of both?
  • How well do your team members really know the business end of the organization? How do they make money?
  • What are your centers of influence with leaders (CEO, COO, CFO, GC, etc.) and across functions (CEO, HR, LEGAL, COMPLIANCE, IT, etc.) and business operations?
  • Are you routinely invited to general business and planning meetings or are you often left out?
  • Do you have purview over everything involving security risk? or just some?
  • What is the span of your responsibility, accountability, and authority?
  • Do you have control over who is on your team?
  • When major security issues surface, do senior business leaders seek you out and listen for your recommendations? Or do they (or others) preempt your input and decide how the issue will be resolved?
  • Can you tell that your business leaders really trust you…or are you unsure?

If you find gaps in your answers, below are some things to consider doing based on my experience as the senior security executive at four Fortune 500 companies.

  • Successful security leaders are life-long learners. Seek out security and business seminars that enhance and continually build your team’s expertise and expands everyone’s business acumen.
  • Your ability as a security leader (not just the head of security) is to foster and maintain strong cross-functional relationships throughout the enterprise. Do first-line managers know you and your team, your skills, your knowledge?
  • Business executives are where they are because they are adept at assessing the integrity of relationships.  Align what you do with your business leaders; it’s team building. Focus on blending diverse security skills to make the business—not security—more profitable and a great place to work. You need both assessment and human resource skills to build, market (yes, you must build awareness that what you do helps the company be more profitable) and sustain a strong core security team.
  • Your project management ability must be strongly coupled with the other items in your toolkit. Learn how projects are managed in your organization. Learn the best ways to present your information to your key leaders - in terms that are easy for them to “get it.” Learn to use business friendly terms and industry jargon to your advantage.
  • You will garner more support, and experience less resistance, if you tailor your strategy and methodology to fit your company’s business initiatives and operations. Mirror your security plans along the same lines as other business plans and initiatives.
  • Managing projects effectively will allow your security team to focus on larger business initiatives, and most importantly on your business relationships! Business managers and leaders have to know you well for them to trust you. Earning that trust is a challenge, but once you have it -- they will be the first to give you a heads up and engage with you.

The key for a successful business security team is actually very simple. You have to prove yourself every day in ways that your business partners see you are focused on making their operations safer, more secure and more profitable. You want to make their jobs easier by letting you and your team deal with those things that have a nexus to security so that they can spend more time running the business.

It sounds easy, but it takes patience and building those internal relationships; do that and you will be very successful! That’s my formula, I hope it works for you!

Answer provided by J. David Quilter, Security Executive Council Emeritus Faculty member. An excerpt of David's book, "From One Winning Career to the Next" is available here

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