What Is a Chief Data Officer?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about the role of chief data officer and the steps you can take to become one.

[Featured Image] A chief data officer shows an employee some information on her tablet.

A Chief Data Officer, or CDO, is an executive-level position overseeing the strategy and processes of storing and managing data for a company or organization. Because this is a leadership role, to become a CDO, you’ll need experience working with data and governance and leadership and management experience.

In this article, you’ll learn exactly what a Chief Data Officer is, the expected duties and responsibilities, and the skills you need to work in this position. Let’s go deeper into the insight you need about the experience and education necessary for this career path.

What is a chief data officer?

In this job, you will manage all data and data-related functions for a company or organization. It’s a relatively new entry to the C-suite of executives. Still, in today’s world, where organizations have access to vast volumes of data they must manage effectively, it is becoming a very important role.

Read more: What Is Big Data Analytics? Definition, Benefits, and More

What does a Chief Data Officer do?

As a Chief Data Officer, it’s your job to enable companies and organizations to make data-driven decisions to achieve business goals. This includes managing data strategies, analytical processes, governance procedures, data protection requirements, and dissemination of information.

Chief Data Officer duties and responsibilities

The responsibilities of a CDO vary according to where you work, the size of the company, and the data you handle; however, the main duties across positions include:

  • Managing and overseeing the lifecycle of data, including collection, storage, and dissemination

  • Establishing and implementing data strategies and procedures

  • Managing data governance to avoid data breaches and ensure compliance with data protection laws

  • Ensuring the safe collection and dissemination of data according to data protection laws and governance policies

  • Using data analytics to uncover any gaps or inconsistencies

  • Implementing data analytics systems to learn about customer behavior and industry trends

  • Reporting data to support data-driven decisions

  • Using business analytics tools to analyze and understand data

  • Building relationships with staff and external organizations

Read more: Data Analytics: Definition, Uses, Examples, and More

Chief Data Officer skills

Working as a Chief Data Officer requires a range of skills you build up over years of working in data analytics, data governance, and leadership positions. We can break these skills down into workplace skills and technical skills:

Technical skillsWorkplace skills
Data managementCommunication
Strategic thinkingLeadership
Project managementOrganization
Data governmentAdaptability
Data reportingProblem-Solving
Regulatory complianceAnalytical Thinking
Business intelligence
Project management

Salary and job outlook

As an executive-level position, chief data officer salaries are high. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the mean annual salary of a chief executive is $246,440 [1]. Glassdoor reports the average annual base salary of a chief data officer specifically as $192,415, according to March 2024 data [2].

The BLS reports an average job growth rate of 35 percent for data scientists at all levels, which is much higher than the average for all jobs [3]. While this isn’t specific to chief data officers, it shows the amount of opportunities within the data field and opportunities for progression.

Where do chief data officers work?

CDO positions are growing as businesses and organizations start to see the importance of data management and the impact of using data to make strategic decisions. CDOs are employed across industries, usually by companies or organizations that store and manage large volumes of data and organizations in highly regulated fields, including finance and health care. Technology companies and start-ups are particularly leading the way in employing CDOs.

Chief data officer career path

Chief data officers have a wealth of experience in both data analytics and data governance positions and experience in leadership roles. Getting to this level takes time.

Data experience: Many chief data officers start in entry-level data roles, such as data scientist or data analyst, to build up experience. From here, it’s common to move into more senior positions, build skills, and step into roles such as data engineer. 

Leadership experience: Moving from senior to leadership roles builds further experience in data and management and strategically managing people. This is essential for you to step up to a C-level position.

Education and training

Education is important for a C-level position. A degree is essential; many C-level executives have master’s level qualifications. For a CDO, this may be a business or technology major or a Master of Business Administration (MBA)

In addition to a degree, it’s important to show that you participate in professional development through self-study, certifications, and training. 

Read more: MBA vs. MS: Choosing Which Is Better for You

Challenges of a Chief Data Officer

As expected from a C-level position, the chief data officer role comes with challenges. A few of these challenges include:

Data security: Keeping data private and secure from cybersecurity breaches is challenging when holding and managing a large volume of data. This requires strict governance policies and adherence to data protection laws.

Technological advancements: Technology changes fast, so it's important to be technical-minded, continue developing your skills, and understand the latest tools and strategies to manage and secure data. 

Undefined role: Sometimes, the CDO might be in a new position with evolving expectations. This can make it challenging to manage, with many duties and responsibilities falling under the remit of the chief data officer.

Getting started with Coursera

Building up skills, education, and experience is integral to working as a chief data officer. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in data analytics or an MBA can provide an excellent start. You’ll find several options on Coursera, including the Master of Science in Data Engineering, delivered by Northeastern University’s College of Engineering, and the iMBA from the University of Illinois.

An alternative is to study for a Professional Certificate to boost your skill set and gain additional credentials for your resume. A few to consider include the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate or the Google Advanced Data Analytics Professional Certificate.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics, Chief Executives, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes111011.htm.” Accessed March 4, 2024.

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