The CTO's Handbook

What Does a CTO do?

In our consultancies, we found three distinct roles related to the CTO position: technological visionary, people manager, and strategist. In this post, we share a little more about these roles.

Technological Visionary

The CTO is responsible for defining the technical direction of the organization. However, it is fundamental to understand that when we mention “responsibility,” it does not mean doing all the actions needed to get it done. In simple terms, the responsibility of a position or role is associated with the assurance that activities will be performed and not necessarily in performing these activities.

In smaller companies and startups, the CTO is the technical visionary (often, the CTO shares this responsibility with the CEO). He is well acquainted with the technologies that the company adopts, and he seeks, in the market, techniques to make the business vision viable.

In more prominent companies, the CTO is still a “technical visionary.” However, he no longer clutters to the details of the technologies (he still has the responsibility, but delegates the operation), he chooses between technological options (but, transfers the indication of the possibilities and the examination of the pros and cons).

People Manager

The CTO is responsible for bringing in, develop, and maintain good people capable of exploiting technology. Also, it is the responsibility of the CTO to give conditions so that this “good people” can do their job.

In smaller companies, the CTO often makes the people management effectively and close to the routine (day-to-day management).

In larger companies, both the management and leadership structure and the company structure are more complicated. As emphasized by Ram Charan, if the CTO tries to perform tasks on two different levels of management, it will succeed only at those related to the lower level.

In smaller companies, the CTO performs tactical tasks and qualifies people who perform operational tasks. In larger companies, the CTO focuses on executing strategic activities and develops the people responsible for tactical execution.


The CTO is responsible for making the business strategy more tangible in technology and for impacting strategy with technological opportunities.

A strategy defines a consistent pattern for decision making. It is the role of the CTO, regardless of the size of the organization, to ensure that there is a defined strategy and that it is communicated and followed.

In smaller companies, the CTO’s performance is tactical-operational. Therefore, it is vital that he be able to “respond quickly” to the issues raised by the team and the market.

In larger companies, the CTO’s performance is strategic-tactical. The horizon of your decisions, naturally, is more elastic.


The “momentum” and “size” of the organization define the emphasis of the CTO’s work. There are no scripts, and the required skills vary.

In future posts, we will talk about the activities related to the three responsibilities listed here.

Have we forgotten something? Share your thoughts with us.

Elemar Júnior

Microsoft Regional Director and Microsoft MVP. I have been working for more than two decades developing world-class business software. I had the privilege to help to change the way Brazil sells, designs and produces furniture. Today, my technical interests are scalable architectures, database engines, and integration tools. Also, I am crazy about exponential organizations and business strategy.

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