A chief privacy officer (or CPO) is an IT executive who is in charge of developing, implementing, and maintaining policies that protect employee and customer data from unauthorized access. A chief privacy officer is a senior-level cyber security position. For this reason, chief privacy officers play a crucial role in how an organization collects, controls, and uses private data.
Chief privacy officers can work in all sorts of commercial, governmental, and non-governmental organizations. To gain a job as a chief privacy officer, you will need at least a Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or another relevant subject. A higher level of education is necessary for some positions. Even if a Master’s degree isn’t required for the role, an employer may view it as preferable or desirable. You also have the option of pursuing certificates, which can make you a good candidate for the chief privacy officer role.
In this guide, we reveal the daily responsibilities of a chief privacy officer. We also highlight useful information on how you can get hired, what you can expect to earn, and the best companies in need of chief privacy officers.
What is a chief privacy officer?
A chief privacy officer advocates for both customers and employees, ensuring that their private information is protected. Part of this role involves keeping an organization’s handling of private data in line with state, federal, and international data privacy regulations. Chief privacy officers may have a background in law, as this can provide them with relevant knowledge about laws surrounding privacy.
A chief privacy officer is a C-suite executive, which means they are a senior member of an organization’s cyber security team. They play a key strategic role and influence company-wide decisions. Usually, a chief privacy officer will work closely with other related executives, including the heads of compliance and security, chief data officer, chief information officer, and chief information security officer.
Consumers and employees have heightened expectations about data privacy rights, demanding more insight and control over how their information is collected, stored, and used. This means companies need to always abide by ethical practices. An organization will hire a chief privacy officer to guarantee that personal data aligns with customers’ interests and all regulations.
As a chief privacy officer, you need to have several years of relevant experience and training in various aspects of IT, including cyber security and cyber law. You should also be equipped to thrive in a senior role, which means being a strong leader and strategist.
Chief privacy officer job description
The exact role that a chief privacy officer will have in an organization will depend on different factors, such as:
- The size of the IT team and/or organization (which will affect their level of responsibility and associated duties).
- The type of organization they work for (for example, private, governmental body, or non-government organization). Data privacy regulations can differ based on the type of organization or the industry it is a part of (for example, education, finance, media, transport, and so on).
- The individual’s level of education, knowledge, skill, and expertise, and the number of years they’ve worked in the field of law and/or cyber security.
However, there are some essential tasks that a chief privacy officer can expect to perform, including:
- Building a strategic and thorough data privacy program that ensures the confidentiality of sensitive information, minimizing the risk of a cyber criminal compromising it. A chief privacy officer should define, develop, implement, and maintain the policies and processes that make up this program. He or she must also guarantee that information – paper and electronic – is protected across all media types.
- Ensuring that the organization’s privacy policies are up to date with current privacy legislation, regulation, and standards. A chief privacy officer should also be aware of any incoming changes to the law which call for an amendment to existing policies.
- Working with senior management, security, and corporate compliance officers to ensure governance for the organization’s data privacy program.
- Acting as a leader for privacy compliance.
- Establishing, along with the information security officer, a way to track, investigate, and report unauthorized access and disclosure of private information. This includes monitoring patterns of inappropriate access and disclosure.
- Performing or overseeing privacy risk assessments, which are carried out periodically. A chief privacy officer will also oversee processes that seek to mitigate and remedy privacy risks.
- Developing, delivering, and overseeing privacy training for the organization’s workforce.
- Working with the information management director in overseeing customers’ rights to amend and restrict access to private information.
- Establishing and administering a procedure for investigating and responding to privacy complaints.
- Serving as a reliable source for information on privacy-related issues. A chief privacy officer should seek to raise awareness about data privacy across the organization.
What skills are required to become a chief privacy officer?
A chief privacy officer will need an array of skills in order to match the diverse job responsibilities described above. The skillset of a chief privacy officer will tend to include the following:
- Deep familiarity with legislation and standards related to the protection of information and privacy (this means having a legal mind with a background in intellectual property, litigation, or technology)
- Hands-on experience with technology
- A high level of integrity and trust (since you are in charge of masses of sensitive information)
- Excellent writing skills (the ability to formulate clear and detailed reports of privacy issues and solutions)
- Being highly skilled in verbal communication and listening
- Being completely transparent in one’s communications
- Collaboration and teamwork
- Leadership skills
- Coordination skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Knowledge of how to deliver an excellent service to customers
- The ability to see an organization’s products and services through the lens of a privacy-aware consumer
- Negotiating skills and the ability to identify compromises
- Analytical skills
- Critical thinking skills
- A willingness to stay on top of the latest developments in tech innovation, legislation, lobbying, and other signs of how the privacy landscape may look in the near and far future
How to become a chief privacy officer
It can be more difficult and time-consuming to become a chief privacy officer as compared to many other cyber security positions. This is a senior position with a high level of experience and knowledge required to succeed in the role. With this in mind, you should be prepared for a career path that will involve a significant amount of time, hard work, education, continual learning, and personal development.
If this career sounds appealing, you will need to follow clear steps to qualify for a role. We have devised a five-step process that will detail everything you need to do to find employment as a chief privacy officer.
Here’s how to become a chief privacy officer:
- Formulate a career plan
- Research relevant degrees
- Consider certificates
- Begin your job search
- Continually improve your knowledge and skills
1. Formulate a career plan
First, you need a clear plan on how to become trained as a chief privacy officer. Your plan should include information on:
- How you will gain the necessary skills, focusing on degrees, certificates, years of IT/law experience, personal development, and other IT/legal roles that can lead to a chief privacy officer position
- Whether you want to work for a private firm, government agency, or non-profit organization
- The type of industry you want to work in, for example, education, finance, tech, environment, energy, travel (your choice should be based on your genuine interests, values, and passions)
- The specific requirements that a company has for hiring a chief privacy officer (if you are unsure about these, you can always contact a recruiter directly; they will tell you what degrees, qualifications, skills, and experiences are necessary or desirable for the role)
2. Research relevant degrees
As mentioned, you will need a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree to be considered for a chief privacy officer role. Relevant subjects of study include cyber security, law, cyber law, computer science, computer engineering, software development, and IT. Here are some examples of Bachelor’s degrees to consider:
- Colorado State University Global’s Bachelor’s Degree in Cybersecurity
- Bellevue University’s Bachelor of Science Cybersecurity Degree
- Norwich University’s Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security
However, some employers will require or prefer that you have a Master’s degree in a relevant subject. Reputable Master’s degrees include:
- UC Berkeley School of Information’s Master of Information and Cybersecurity (MICS)
- A. James Clark School of Engineering’s Masters of Engineering in Cybersecurity
- University of Delaware’s Master of Science in Cybersecurity
- Loyola Law School’s Master of Laws (LLM) with a Specialization in Cybersecurity and Data Privacy
Also, given the advanced nature of the chief privacy officer role, having a higher-level degree, such as a PhD or Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) can be beneficial. A PhD in cyber security or an S.J.D. that specializes in cyber law can provide you with a more refined knowledge base and skillset, making you an ideal candidate for the role. Advanced qualifications that will enhance your career prospects include:
- Capitol Technology University’s Doctorate (DSc) in Cybersecurity
- University of Fairfax’s Doctorate of Information Assurance
- Dakota State University’s Doctor of Philosophy in Cyber Operations
- Indiana University Bloomington Maurer School of Law’s Doctor of Juridical Science
3. Consider certificates
Certificates are additional qualifications that can teach you skills relevant to the chief privacy officer occupation. Many employers want chief privacy officers to have a specific set of hard and soft skills. If your personal history of working in the field of cyber security or law has given you limited experience in these skill areas, it might be worthwhile gaining a certificate from a reputable provider. The most beneficial certificates for chief privacy officers include:
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
- Certified Information Privacy Technologist (CIPT)
- Certified in Healthcare Privacy and Security (CHPS)
- Certified in Healthcare Privacy Compliance (CHPC)
- Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)
- Certified Information Privacy Manager (CIPM)
- (ISC)²’s CISSP – ISSAP (Information Systems Security Architecture Professional)
- GIAC’s (Global Information Assurance Certification) GPEN certification
- CISM – Certified Information Security Manager
4. Begin your job search
Once you have the right educational accolades, you can start searching for chief privacy officer vacancies. Many chief privacy officers enter the profession within the organization they already work for. If you are presently in a mid-level or senior cyber security position, be aware of the internal recruitment process. If there is an opening for a chief privacy officer position and you feel you have sufficient training for the role, then it’s worth putting your name forward.
On the other hand, you might want to change employers, industry, or the type of organization. If you would prefer to work for a governmental agency, check out the following resources for job vacancies:
If you would like to work in the private sector, then the top companies hiring for the role include:
You can also find chief privacy officer vacancies on the major job sites, such as ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster, as well as niche job sites like CyberSecJobs.com and CyberSecurityJobs.com.
See the salary section below for a few examples of companies that pay particularly well for chief privacy officer roles.
5. Continually improve your knowledge and skills
Given that a chief privacy officer is a high-level position, you need to ensure that you are self-motivated when it comes to learning. Becoming knowledgeable and capable enough for the position requires that you continually develop your insights and skills throughout the course of your career path. After all, a chief privacy officer is afforded a great deal of trust in an organization. Employees in all departments – but the IT team specifically – depend on chief privacy officers as experts and authorities on data privacy.
To reach this level of expertise and reliability, you should consider options for extended learning, such as a Master’s degree, a law degree, a PhD program, or one or more certificates. You can, of course, educate yourself on data privacy and the legislation surrounding it in different ways. Alternative forms of learning include self-education (for example, reading widely in your spare time) and attending workshops, lectures, conferences, and industry and networking events.
Keep in mind, you can always steer your career path in a different direction, should you decide that the chief privacy officer occupation is not a good fit for you. Fortunately, by working towards this career goal, you will be well-equipped to thrive in many areas of cyber security, cyber law, and law more generally.
Chief privacy officer salary
In this section, we will now focus on the salary expectations for a chief privacy officer role. You will be pleased to know that remuneration, including starting salaries for chief privacy officers, is relatively high. In fact, it is one of the most well-paid roles in the field of cyber security. This is due to the seniority of the position, the level of responsibility involved, and the critical impact that a chief privacy officer can have on an IT team, the organization at large, and the lives of consumers and employees. The skills required for this occupation are immensely valuable and in high demand.
When researching the average salaries of chief privacy officers, you will probably find a range of results. Nevertheless, a trustworthy resource to use is PayScale, as it aggregates the average salaries from a number of sites. According to PayScale:
- The average salary for a chief privacy officer is $150,211.
- The average range of pay for chief privacy officers is $73,000–$247,000.
The site also provides valuable information on how you can expect to see your salary increase over time:
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If you want to aim for the best jobs in the field, information from SimplyHired highlights the top employers of chief privacy officers and what these companies pay for the role:
- Blackhawk Network: $99,000–$140,000
- Nova Southeastern University: $100,000–$140,000
- Alliance Bernstein: $72,000–$99,000