7 valuable certifications for IT leaders

What IT certifications help your career at the leadership level? Spoiler: There is no CIO certificate
430 readers like this.
TEP Man at a Crossroads CIO

IT certifications can help you carve a career path from the beginning to the end of your career. Many certifications can also help you make changes in direction from an existing path to a new one, such as cloud or security. If anything, the problem with certifications is overabundance.

“There seems to be a certification for everything these days, and the struggle becomes figuring out which to pursue that will benefit your career long-term,” says Jenna Spathis, senior project manager at the recruiting firm LaSalle Network.

If you’ve got C-suite aspirations, solving that problem can be an even bigger challenge. It’s not like there’s a CIO certification, right? (We double-checked: There isn’t.)

Do certifications matter less as you move up the ranks?

For many IT pros, however, the long-term career picture involves executive or management roles. So do certifications matter less as you move up the ranks? Not necessarily – while a certification on its own is not the be-all, end-all, it can carry weight well into an IT leader’s career.

“You can earn a certification at any point in your technology career, and they can be quite valuable as you move up the ranks,” says Jim Johnson, senior vice president at the recruiting firm Robert Half Technology. “Think of them as a way to show your manager or future employer that you’re eager to learn more and take on new responsibilities.”

Think process and project management certifications

Both Spathis and Johnson agree that as you move up the ranks, certifications that focus on areas like process and project management tend to increase in value. It’s not that technical certifications lose their worth, but rather a reflection of an IT leader increasingly taking on work tied to strategy and management (of both people and products or initiatives).

[ Which certifications are on the rise? Read also: 15 IT certifications worth watching. ]

We asked Spathis and Johnson to share their national recruiting perspective on certifications that can be valuable in the executive and managerial ranks, both for current and future IT leaders. We also tapped Mahesh Ramachandran, VP of product management at OpsRamp, for his perspective as a hiring manager and tech exec himself. Here are seven IT certifications they recommend for leaders, listed in no particular order of value or importance.

Project Management Professional (PMP)

Johnson and Spathis both point to the PMP as a good one for technologists looking to build up their strategy, leadership, and business credentials. Spathis notes that the PMP requires boots-on-the-ground hours leading projects, PM education, and passing the actual exam. Moreover, it’s not a one-and-done effort: “It takes work to maintain and keep active in the eyes of the Project Management Institute,” Spathis says.

While a PMP is not a one-way ticket to the CIO’s office, it can begin to show your commitment to seeing the big picture.

“[It] exposes you to the most effective approach and framework of project management to ensure projects are led to be completed on time [and] under budget,” Spathis says.

Indeed, showing a willingness and ability to wrangle budgets is a good example of how the worth of IT certifications may shift as you move up the ladder.

Johnson notes three other certifications, along with the PMP, worth considering in terms of establishing skills and credibility in managing projects:

PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)

CompTIA Project+

Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)

“While technical certifications will still be valuable to IT professionals as they advance, many tech managers and executives find project management certifications very helpful for leading a team or major tech initiative,” Johnson says.

Product Management from Pragmatic Institute

Ramachandran recommends this one for IT executives working within a technology company. And given the outsized strategic role technology plays in so many businesses these days, that’s an ever-expanding criterion. It’s also important given the increasing product focus many CIOs must take, especially as the term “project” is decreasingly associated with a specific end date or finish line in IT shops.

“Product management is critical. It establishes product-market fit, sets the engineering roadmap, and executes on the vision of the company.”

“Product management is critical. It establishes product-market fit, sets the engineering roadmap, and executes on the vision of the company,” Ramachandran says. “With this background, an IT executive can lead one of the most critical initiatives for business success within the company. It’s like an MBA for technology.”

(As with many certification programs, Pragmatic offers multiple levels – seven, to be exact.)


The fundamentals still matter. So while service management is evolving along with so many other facets of IT, ITIL is still relevant, Spathis says.

“The ITIL certification, focused on service management, illustrates the ability to take a systematic and solutions-oriented approach to greater IT issues,” Spathis says. “Being able to apply the ITIL foundations to problem-solving will allow managers and executives to showcase a strategic and process-oriented mindset to tackle problems that may occur in an IT organization.”

Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT (CGEIT)

Speaking of the fundamentals: Areas like governance, compliance, and risk management aren’t fading away. They’re more necessary than ever, especially in multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments. Ramachandran points to the CGEIT as a good one for IT leaders looking to show they’re up to the task of governance in today’s IT environments.

“When we talk to large enterprises, it’s clear that governance is a top priority, especially as the technology stack and infrastructure complexity continue to grow,” Ramachandran says. “This certification teaches the ability to establish a governance framework in an increasingly complex organization.”

Bonus tip: Link your IT certifications to your ability to solve problems

The nice thing about certifications is they’re like calling cards or neon signs advertising your skills and interests. It can be tempting to treat them as such and assume people will understand their value.

You may actually be underselling that value if you take a hands-off approach, though.

“It is important to know how to talk about your certifications in an interview or why they are applicable for a position,” Spathis says. “Rather than just listing the certifications you have, relate them to a specific experience that you have encountered and how you used the foundations/principles to approach the problem, and how it affected the end result.”

[ Are you searching for a new job? Get expert advice: Download our one-page IT job interview cheat sheet. ] 

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.


They do not matter when you're the boss.