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IT salary survey: Highest earners are cozy with business, hard on IT

The highest earners among IT senior and midlevel leaders differ from their less well-off peers -- and not just because they make more money.

In a year when income inequality became a topic of national interest, compensation for IT leaders was subject to its own disparities. Although compensation for senior or midlevel IT executives in general declined 2% in 2011 compared to 2010, senior and midlevel executives at large companies enjoyed an 11% boost in compensation. Are there traits that distinguish the highest-paid IT leaders from their less well-off counterparts – aside from the size of the companies where they work?

According to data from our annual CIO/IT Strategy Media Group IT salary and career survey, the rich are different -- and not just because they make more money.

High earners appear to enjoy better relationships with their bosses and the business than do those who make less. They get strong support from executive management, and their IT teams are praised by the business. Despite the good opinion they say the business has of IT, however, these earners tend to judge their own IT teams more harshly than do their counterparts earning less.

This profile is based on responses from 875 senior and midlevel IT executives across all markets and categorized by earning power: Highest earners are those who make more than $210,000 a year; midlevel earners make $90,000 to $210,000; low earners -- the remaining IT executives -- make less than $90,000. The data came from a survey fielded in November by and that gathered more than 1,700 responses from IT executives and roles globally across 32 industries.

More time building relationships than managing projects

On the question of executive management support, for example, the highest earners are more likely to say they are extremely satisfied (23%) with that support than are midlevel earners (16% are extremely satisfied) -- or low earners (17% are extremely satisfied). Moreover, a measly 4% of the highest earners said they are "not at all satisfied" with executive management's support, compared to 14% of midlevel earners and nearly 17% of low earners.

Highest earners also are more confident of IT's standing with the business. Nearly a fifth (19%) say they are "extremely satisfied" with how the business perceives IT, compared to 6% of midlevel earners and 8% of low earners.

As it turns out, the highest earners are more than twice as likely as respondents who earn less to make business and IT relations their top priority.When asked what they spend most of their time doing, the highest earners singled out "breaking down communications barriers between IT and the business" as their top task (22%). Breaking down communications barriers was the top priority for just 10% of midlevel earners, however, and just 5% of low earners. By contrast, midlevel and low earners are much more likely to spend most of their time on "managing projects" (34% and 33% respectively) than the highest earners are (18%).

Breaking down communication barriers between IT and the business was high-earner José Botto's main mission when he stepped in as interim CIO at a global financial services company in 2011, he said. The Miami-based company was in the middle of rolling out a major IT initiative in markets from North America to Latin America. It was critical that the CIO understand the cultural differences among these markets -- or as Botto puts it, "learn different condiments for the same dish." Previously a CIO at Barclays Bank of Portugal and IT director at American Express, he believes that breaking down the silos between IT and the business is the primary responsibility of the CIO. Long gone are the days when IT was walled off from the business and the CIO acted as "a selfish dictator" of IT operations: "CIOs need to be strategic partners of the other business executives. If you don't report to the CEO or are part of the C-suite, you cannot be successful today as a CIO," he said.

High earners are more pleased with the business's regard for IT than their less well-paid counterparts are -- rightly so, given the time they spend cultivating a relationship with the business. The same cannot be said for their view of their IT teams: 40% of highest earners said they were "satisfied or "extremely satisfied" with their IT teams, compared to 49% of midlevel earners and 51% of low earners. In addition, high earners were much more likely to be "extremely dissatisfied" (6%) with their teams than were midlevel earners (1%) or low earners (2%).

Finally, is there a gender divide in earning power among our respondents? There are more women than men among the low earners (in that category, 25% of respondents were female and 18% were male) but the gap diminishes as compensation climbs: 67% of the respondents who identified themselves as female are midlevel earners, compared to 72% of respondents who identified themselves as male. Higher up, the air is rarified for both genders: Just 9% of female respondents and 11% of male respondents make more than $210,000.

Tasks by salary level

   Lowest earners
Highest earners
Using technology creatively to achieve business goals 35.37% 29.56% 41.3%
Breaking down communications barriers between IT and business 4.88% 10.02% 21.74%
Managing projects 33.54% 33.28% 18.48%
Building and managing teams 5.49% 13.89% 11.96%
Integrating or consolidating technologies 14.63% 7.43% 3.26%
Breaking down communications
barriers within IT
0% 3.23% 2.17%
Containing costs 6.1% 2.58% 1.09%

Base: 875 respondents.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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