Skills, motivation and career paths of Heads of Corporate Responsibility/Sustainability

If the headline is posed as a question, it is one that is almost impossible to answer.

Companies, industries, and corporate cultures are so different, it’s clear that successful heads of CSR/sustainability don’t come from any particular mould.

Instead, they share some characteristics, skill-sets and desires.

I chaired a dinner discussion on the topic with seven or so heads of sustainability last week. Here’s a few of my notes/takeaways from our discussion:

– A good CR head is hugely patient and very ambitious.

– He or she cultivates board mentors.

– He or she works out who really matters and builds recognition and coalitions: Understands corporate geopolitics.

– Lacks ego and is prepared to help others take credit.

– Can be both the “Court Jester” and risk manager.

– Inspires others with the art of the possible.

– Is a change maker and innovation catalyst.

– Gains more pleasure from the success of others and change in the organisation than personal progression.

– COULD aim to be a CEO in the right environment: if corporate strategy is aligned with sustainability early enough in their career, for example.

– Career goals seem to be around making sustainable change, leading to corporate transformation where possible and noticably helping others make a difference across a wide variety of theatres: executives, shop floor colleagues, stakeholders, society and boards.

– If the CSO is to be close to the Chief Strategy Officer role and closely advising the executive or a part of it, this may be the ultimate career destination for many heads of CSR. But that, depends on the company…

The dinner was sponsored by CS Partners, a new and interesting headhunting firm in sustainability. (Disclosure: I was paid by them to organise and host the dinner)

We may be holding some further private discussion events later in 2012. If you are a head of CSR/sustainability and are interested in these kinds of dinner discussions with like-minded people, then do get in touch. We may host some in cities other than London at some point.

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