Data & Analytics leaders are in increasingly high demand. Four years ago, executive level interaction with data teams was virtually non-existent, but today 20% of Fortune 100 companies now have dedicated Data & Analytics leadership.

In 2015, Russell Reynolds Associates partnered on more than three times the number of Data & Analytics searches than in the year prior, and expects the trend to repeat itself in 2016 based on January’s activity. Since the development of the first senior Data and Analytics positions, heads of Data have been primarily tasked with data quality, enablement, and governance, and heads of Analytics have been primarily responsible for driving marketing and customer insights.

While the original priorities for these leaders have remained critical components of the role, the scope of expectations and definitions of success have significantly evolved. The majority of organizations, across industry sectors, originally concentrated Data & Analytics efforts on externally focused impacts (marketing, customer experience, etc.), but analytics is now being used, in equal measure, to optimize business processes across the entire business.

In addition to driving decision making around growth and cost efficiencies, analytics leaders are now tasked to use data & analytics to drive employee enablement, cross-selling, operations improvement, culture change and innovation. As a result of this new direction the skills demanded of Data & Analytics leaders are changing as well.

It is more important for Data & Analytics executives to be change agents than to bring sophisticated technical capabilities to the role. Ranked in order of importance by leading Data & Analytics professionals , the top leadership qualities in today’s market are:

  • Navigating political environments: Stakeholder management 
  • Storytelling: Communication skills
  • Innovation
  • Executing capabilities: Operations
  • Commercial Acumen
  • Technical Depth

At the senior-most level, the head of Data & Analytics role is becoming increasingly holistic and critical for a business's success. In order for Data and Analytics leaders to successfully drive business change, they must realize that the core challenge of their job is to drive culture change across an enterprise.
Executives placed in these roles must also bring strategic oversight experience, in addition to exceptional analytical capabilities. Most companies are now seeking leaders who simultaneously grasp data’s intricate and endless possibilities, and are equally capable of envisioning and implementing an enterprise-wide solution based on the significant impact and opportunities which analytics can provide.

At Russell Reynolds Associates we always ask our clients to think of the role as the "CEO" of Data, rather than a technical analytics leader. When creating the hiring checklist for the right-fit leader to run a dynamic, truly enterprise-wide Data & Analytics capability, it is critical to include the abilities necessary to both sell the vision and influence other executives to get on board and actually deliver on the plan to achieve the right ROI.

(About the author: Justin Cerilli is leader for the Data & Analytics Practice at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates).