Emphasising security's strategic value in business

October 2002 News

Security is not a separate entity. Rather, in order for any security programme to succeed, it should form part of a company's holistic business plan. For the most part, this can only be achieved if those charged with the task of implementing security policies have the support of their colleagues in other areas of business such as the finance manager or the IT consultant.

However, often a security manager may go about the wrong way in trying to get his peers or employers to understand security policies. As author and security consultant Carl Roper points out: "The problem is that as security professionals, we have failed in many instances to properly educate senior management about the fundamentals of security. We tell them about the threats, what must be done to counter them, and how much it will cost. We do not sell them on the broader benefits of security nor explain to them how security can help the bottom line."

According to Roper in order to get security's message across, security managers need to address three points: knowledge base, including technical terms; management style; and inattention. Below is a synopsis of the key factors that he believes are essential for the security manager to get the support he needs from senior management:

Understanding: Security managers often mistakenly assume that executives are already well versed in the fundamentals of security. That false premise can create communication problems. Since a project's approval may hinge on the decision makers' understanding of a principle such as risk management, managers should not presume prior knowledge of the concept. For example, risk management may have one meaning from an IT perspective, another from an accounting perspective, and yet another from a security perspective.

The security manager should, therefore, offer brief incisive overviews of the principles on which a project is based. These can be introduced with phrases such as "As many of you may already know..." to avoid the impression that the security manager is talking down to the executives. The overview ensures that everyone will have at least a basic level of knowledge on which to base the funding decision.

Senior managers may also be unfamiliar with technical terms. Undefined terminology is an obvious impediment to communication. Some managers may think that making a presentation that is technical will cause decision makers to simply approve the project. That outcome is unlikely, however. A presentation laden with indecipherable terms is more likely to cause annoyance and frustration as executives are forced to ask repeatedly for explanations. And in some cases, decision makers will just 'fill in the blanks,' guessing at the meaning without asking, which is bound to result in misinterpretations. And when these misinterpretations lead to failures later, it is not the executive who will take the blame.

Operational approach: Every manager has his or her own style. The security manager who fails to craft a presentation to fit the decision maker's operational approach can doom a project proposal. The security manager must also recognise the concerns of other departmental managers - the focus on getting the job done. If the perception is that security is becoming a roadblock to the business objectives, it must be overcome. The security manager can do so by stressing how an effective security program supports the business goals. In addition, when making a specific project proposal, the security manager should relate it to specific corporate objectives that are viewed as vitally important, emphasising how the one benefits the other using as many specifics as possible.

Listening: Keeping executives' attention focused on security also entails listening. Only by listening to and understanding management's broader concerns can the security manager make sure that the security program fully addresses these concerns. In so doing, the security manager brings senior management to security's side and helps these executives to understand the entire process and their role in it.

Only by educating top management about security's role can the security manager obtain full support for the security program. And that objective can be achieved only when the security professional has learned to communicate effectively with senior management.

Till next month

Gerard Peter - Editor

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