What Defines the True Attributes of Data Leadership?

by June 23, 2020

Big DataWith the emergence of big data, data leadership has become a crucial aspect of modern day businesses.

The emergence of voluminous data has not only impacted industries and businesses but also the authorities who lead them. Yes, modern leadership in the age of big data is completely different from traditional ones. Today’s data leadership is far more collaborative and open to innovation and new ideas rather than those who used to abide by one principle for a lifetime.

The tectonic shift in the leadership of C-Suite executives has taken a new turn with the rising potential and capabilities of big data and technologies. According to a report, four primary leadership profiles have emerged within the senior-level data and analytics talent pool, each with distinct responsibilities, backgrounds, and market realities. When hiring senior data talent, then, understanding your organization’s strategic opportunities and current capabilities is an important first step in defining the specific leadership needs — and an essential one for the success of the role and data initiatives.

Moreover, a number of attributes constitute true data leadership. Here are some of the most important ones.


Transcending traditional organizational barriers

Data leaders must have a strong understanding of the business, their industry, their data, and what their data represents. They must be able to direct teams which encompass data scientists and analysts who can understand the data, business people who can frame the problems that need solving, IT people who can put it all to work, and domain experts to ensure that the insight is clearly presented while making sure that everything links back to the business’s objectives.


Merging science with business

A true data leader is not an IT director in the traditional sense; nor do they need to be an expert in advanced data analytics. Instead, a data leader should be a manager who is capable of doing one crucial thing: merging science with business. Integrating new types of data analytics into a business requires significant changes in the usual approaches. Existing processes and organizational structures are often not tailored to work with automated and truly data-driven decisions. The role of a data leader is to enable this.



Big data is an area of work in which there are so many unknowns about real-world commercial outcomes, so much to ingest and discover, that you need a certain level of ‘guts’ to be involved full-stop. For many big data companies, given the sector’s youth, there is still a lack of a track record, and this is one of the biggest challenges. The business world craves certainty above all, and with certain incipient big data technologies, there can still be a step into the unknown.

Data leaders have the responsibility to spot these trends and work to ensure that data is used to its fullest potential.


Creating a data culture

It’s important to give data teams the room to think creatively when they are interpreting vast quantities of data. Models and visuals can be useful on their own, but human analysis provides real value and contextual insight, often sparking new product ideas, services, or business approaches. Leaders should aim to create a culture in which teams can explore meaningful threads of innovations.


Separating hype from potential

Data leaders are astute at weighing the potential of a data source or type and determining whether it is worth keeping, even if the present value of it is unclear. They know that they need to justify, explain, and place value on each piece of data.


Asking the right questions

Data leaders must ensure that they, and those who use data in the business, have a clear and focused question they’d like to answer. By comparison, a data leader starts by identifying the right question to ask, surveys what data is available, and is then far better equipped to allocate the right resources to solve it.


Vision and purpose

Most businesses today are paralyzed by the amount of data that they have access to and are not doing the most to use it to their advantage. A data leader needs to take responsibility for defining a use case for data that will deliver real benefits for both the customer and the business. A true data leader is responsible for constantly evolving a business’s shape, size, and offers, in response to hard data showing where any blind spots or opportunities may lie.


Understanding the revolutionary potential of data

All data leaders understand that it’s now or never for their organizations to be part of the digital revolution, or else be left behind. This means rejecting incremental improvements and small thinking and instead focusing on changing the way that people go about their day-to-day lives.



‘The leaders that are benefiting from analytics look to the long term and recognize the importance of continuously improving their data management strategies,’ says Laurie Miles, director of analytics at SAS UK and Ireland. ‘This leads to cleaner, better organized, and more useable data, allowing leaders to overcome the volume and gain maximum insight from their data while innovating existing business processes through superior analytics.’