There are many paths to becoming a CSO – make sure you are honing the essential skills!
In 2005, only 150 major companies had a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). Today, most of the Fortune 500 and at least 15,000 other companies around the world have a senior executive in charge of Sustainability and/or Corporate Responsibility.
Tangible skills and how to get them
CSOs need strong communication skills within the organization, both written and oral. They must be able to speak to supervisors, peers and subordinates. Many CSOs have come up from Human Resources.
CSOs need creativity and good problem-solving skills. They develop, design or create new applications, ideas, relationships, systems, or products. For example, they are tasked to shrink their companies’ carbon footprint. Many CSOs have come up through engineering, research and development and business development.
CSOs must stay up-to-date with information. They must apply that information to determine compliance with standards. This lends itself to compliance officers.
CSOs need to communicate effectively outside the organization. They must be adept at engaging and often collaborating with many different stakeholders: customers, the public, activists. Many have risen from marketing and communications departments.
Intangible skills which will set you apart
To become a CSO, you also need key intangible skills. Most of all, you must have a passion for the environment, social and governance (ESG) factors involved with sustainability. You must be able to develop objectives and strategies and then make decisions.
While the focus may be on corporate social responsibility (CSR), if you can’t make the business case for a CSR initiative, then you won’t be the leader your company needs. Many CSOs have strong backgrounds in economics or business management, even if that isn’t the career path they’ve followed.
Whether following a traditional career path or starting in a sustainability department, you’ll need to understand every department in your company, and how they work together. Your creative skills will be employed to develop plans which often overlap departments. The good news is that there is a profit at the end of your skill-building journey. According to Recruiter.com, CSOs can make up to $400,000 in the private sector.
How do you jumpstart your CSO path? Or transition into sustainability?
The Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) has spent over a decade honing the key content every sustainability practitioner needs to move into the executive suite. Learn about the latest research, the most highly regarded standards and how to apply them. Build strategies which incorporate global citizenship and corporate financial success.
If you want to become a Certified Sustainability Professional, join CSE’s Global Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Program (Advanced Edition 2018), an intense two-day immersion, held several times a year, all around the world. See our upcoming North America, Canada, Europe and Asia trainings here.
For a more flexible approach, CSE created the Sustainability Academy, offering certified online courses for specialized education.