US-based CISOs get nearly $1 million per year

The role of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is a relatively new senior-level executive position within most organizations, and is still evolving.

To find out how current CISOs landed in that role, their aspirations, the compensation they receive, and which risks they face and responsibilities they shoulder, analysts with international executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles have asked 327 CISOs (and CISOs in all but name) to participate in their 2022 Global CISO Survey.

The results of the survey revealed these main takeaways:

Who reports to CISOs and to whom do the CISOs report?

The main organizational functions that report to CISOs are SecOps (88%); governance, risk, and compliance (87%); penetration testing (87%); security architecture (86%); product and application security (79%); and business continuity planning or disaster recovery (79%).


CISOs mostly report to the CIO (38%); the CTO or senior engineering executive (15%); the COO or CAO (9%); the global CISO (8%); and the CEO (8%). But 88% of them also report to the company board and/or advisory committee.

CISO roles are often terminal

Most CISOs move laterally into their current role and the career path forward for CISOs is most often to another CISO role, the analysts found.

If they were not CISOs before – and 53% of them were! – they were mostly a deputy CISO, a regional or business unit CISO, and the senior information security executive in their organization.

Many CISOs aspire to be a board member next, but that ambition is unlikely to be realized. Even though cybersecurity experience is sorely needed on boards, many boards still frequently prefer board members with prior board experience, the analysts pointed out.

The Chief Security Officer (CSO) or the Chief Information Officer (CIO) roles are also coveted by many of the respondents.

Threats CISOs are facing and personal risks they are worried about

CISOs say ransomware attacks are the most significant cyber risk to their organization (67%), followed by insider threats (32%) and nation/state attacks (31%).

On a more personal note, CISOs are most worried about stress related to the role (59%) and burnout (48%), and much less about job loss as a result of a breach (25%) or being faced with personal financial accountability for a breach (11%).


“Our survey responses here tell a few different stories,” the analysts noted.

“One is that there is burnout and stress associated with this role, which should lead organizations to consider succession plans and/or retention strategies so that CISOs don’t make unnecessary exits. The second story is that CISOs feel relatively secure in their jobs—job loss as a result of a breach wasn’t the highest risk. That is, in part, because the best CISOs are able to command executive-level protections (D&O insurance coverage and severance, for example) that enable them to do their jobs unencumbered by the threat of career risk.”

CISO compensation keeps rising

“In the United States, reported median cash CISO compensation has risen to $584,000 this year, up from $509,000 last year and $473,000 in 2020. Median total compensation, including any annualized equity grants or long-term incentives, also increased, to $971,000 from $936,000,” the company found.

New CISOs, in particular, saw the highest rises in overall compensation – probably because talent to fill out the role is hard to find and organizations are competing fiercely to take hold of it.

In the UK, the median cash CISO compensation has risen to £318,000 this year, but there was a 14% drop in annual equity.

For those interested, Heidrick & Struggles’s report offers more granular insight on the various factors that impact CISO compensation in different geographical locations.

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