Chief Knowledge Officers? Perceptions, Pitfalls & Potentials

By Corcoran, Mary; Jones, Rebecca | Information Outlook, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Chief Knowledge Officers? Perceptions, Pitfalls & Potentials


Corcoran, Mary, Jones, Rebecca, Information Outlook


Attend any conference or event where information professionals are gathered these days and the discussion will turn, sooner or later, to the issue of new roles for the profession. One of the roles being discussed is that of "chief knowledge officer" or "knowledge executive." This role is viewed by many in our profession as a logical, and perhaps deserved, fit for librarians.

A few years ago when "chief information officer" positions were being carved out, many librarians were aghast when these roles were filled with candidates from the systems environment rather than from the library profession. Will - or we should say - is this pattern being repeated with the emerging knowledge executive roles? Will information professionals fill these positions? Perhaps the questions to be asked are:

* should information professionals fill these positions?

* what are the competencies required for these executive positions?

* do librarians have these competencies?

Market research recently completed for SLA indicates some of the answers to these questions. The finding are crucial to our future. We must not only listen, but also learn from them.

Market Research: Background

In summer 1996, Knight-Ridder Information, Inc. and Teltech Technical Knowledge Service agreed to sponsor the development costs of the Special Libraries Association Executive Leadership Program through the year 2000. The association welcomed this addition to their professional development program. For years, the association had been offering a broad array of courses, including the Middle Management Institute, primarily aimed at librarians in entry-level through to middle management career stages. This new course would focus on the competencies and skill development requirements for those librarians on the career path to executive positions.

SLA strongly felt that the Executive Leadership Program be market driven, with its design and curriculum based on market research. The methodology used for this research involved a series of interviews with both executives and senior management librarians within organizations representative of SLA's top constituencies. It was critical to complete interviews with both of these segments to ensure the results reflected perceptions of the organizations' executive ranks as well as of the library market being targeted for this course. Interviews were conducted with 23 individuals within 11 organizations.

The findings from these interviews are extremely interesting within the context of a discussion concerning chief knowledge executives positions. They not only offer valuable insights into the competencies expected of executives in general, and of knowledge executives in particular, but also highlight which of these competencies many librarians feel they do not have and recognize that they must develop for their careers to progress.

The Findings: Perceptions

The findings pertinent to this discussion are organized as follows:

1. Executive Competencies: competencies organizations look for in their executives.

2. Knowledge Executive Competencies: competencies organizations involved in or developing knowledge management initiatives look for in executives responsible for these areas.

3. Executive Competency Development for Librarians: competency gaps librarians feel they must address to progress to executive positions.

4. Knowledge Executive Competency Development for Librarians: competency gaps librarians feel they must address to progress to these knowledge executive positions.

1. Executive Competencies:

Based on the research, executives are expected to demonstrate these competencies and specific skill sets:

(a) Communication

Presentation Skills:

* present information and concepts concisely, articulately, coherently and within the audience's context

Influencing Skills:

* build a large lobby of peers, superiors, subordinates, enlisting support as required

* demonstrate strong negotiation and persuasive abilities

Inter-Personal Skills:

* demonstrate a presence, confidence, and assertiveness

* convey potentially sensitive messages with empathy

(b) Leadership

Skill sets for this competency are grouped under the fundamental practices Kouzes and Posner discovered from their research of leadership behaviors (James M. …

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