What is the role of a Chief Privacy Officer?

What is the role of a Chief Privacy Officer?

The Chief Privacy Officer role is an increasingly popular career choice for individuals who possess a blend of technical and interpersonal skills.  In this article, we look at some of the key talking points around the evolution of the role, how it compares to a data privacy officer and what the typical career path looks like.



While both Data Protection Officers (DPOs) and Chief Privacy Officers (CPOs) share the common goal of upholding a company's privacy obligations – and some companies do use the terms interchangeably – there are crucial differences. DPOs should function as impartial guardians of compliance, while CPOs should assume a broader, more strategic, commercially-minded position and a seat on the leadership team. CPOs play an active role in crafting and overseeing privacy policies, governance, and compliance within ongoing projects, whereas DPOs primarily offer advisory support and monitor these activities.

Although they do usually report directly to senior management, DPOs are not viewed as ‘C-Suite’, a space which should be occupied by CPOs. While DPOs inform managers about compliance and audit matters and identify areas of weakness, they should have a more impartial view, taking into consideration law, regulatory interpretation and consumer rights into their advice first and foremost. CPOs by contrast should be more able to consider business and commercial priorities, and weigh these against the aforementioned law and regulatory interpretations.


Career path and qualifications 

Aspiring CPOs can come from legal, compliance, risk or information technology backgrounds, bringing a keen understanding of privacy laws and data protection frameworks.

We have seen the IAPP become ‘the’ privacy qualification body of choice over the last ten years. While there are pros and cons associated with this, it unlikely to change in the near or medium term at least. Most CPO candidates will also have a degree in a related discipline, such as law or IT.

Successful CPOs are strategic thinkers, but also have excellent interpersonal and often organisational skills. This is due to their unique position at the intersection of legal, IT, security and risk. Often privacy teams and goals are unable to be successfully implemented unless all (and often even more - such as marketing teams) are onboard.

In addition to a high working knowledge of information security principles and an ever-growing list of international privacy legislation, CPOs must keep abreast of evolving privacy technologies and trends and demonstrate unwavering commitment to upholding ethical standards.


Technological advancements and the CPO role

Advancements in AI and big data have unsurprisingly impacted heavily on the responsibilities of Chief Privacy Officers. They are now increasingly bearing the weighty task of overseeing data protection impact assessments and championing privacy-centric design in the development of new M-L and AI products or services.

Keeping updated with all the latest developments in the cyber and privacy space is necessary for CPOs to identify and pre-empt privacy threats. The role also requires close collaboration with cybersecurity teams to address data breaches and swiftly respond to incidents. 

By working as a team, privacy considerations are seamlessly integrated into all types of security protocols, which is vital for preserving customer trust as well as regulatory compliance.


If you are looking for information on recruiting a chief privacy officer, growing your privacy team or if you would just like to understand the current market, please get in touch with Tom Woods for an informal chat.