Does your Data Governance Lead Have the Correct Skills?

Finding the right person to be a successful Data Governance Lead within your firm needn’t be a difficult or daunting task. In this article, I show you how to pick someone who will help lead your Data Governance initiative to success.

How does the Data Governance Lead fit into the Data Governance Centre of Excellence?

Iron Carrot has a simple five-step process for producing governance roadmaps for law firms. A core part of that roadmap is the creation of a data governance capability.  This will look different for each firm because it depends on that firm’s structure, the rules they already have in place, and their appetite for disruptive change.

It is usual for the data governance lead to be the person who is creating the data governance framework. Within this matrix, they act as the conductor for the orchestra of framework group members and line manager of any supporting roles created in the Centre of Excellence (CoE)

As a framework matures, the data stewards may need specialist support for an aspect of their responsibilities. This executive or central data steward, who is line managed by the data governance lead, will be the next hire for your CoE.

What kinds of skills or experiences should you look for?

Skills can be learned, and experiences can be leveraged to deliver successful behavioural and organisational change – which is what most data governance programs are really all about.  Here is a list of the most common skills and experiences every Data Governance Lead has (either on day one or day 400).

Project Management

At its most simplistic, a project manager is in overall charge of the planning and execution of a particular project. This is a valuable skill to help a Data Governance Lead coordinate, prioritise, and deliver all of the cross-functional moving parts in a data governance roadmap.

Having a basic understanding of the project management process means that the Data Governance Lead has a toolset to guide them through the planning, initiation, execution, monitoring, and closing of all the roadmap steps. It also helps to focus data governance deliverables in the context of scope, time, cost, quality, and resources.

You might find Prince2 or Agile project management qualifications on someone’s CV.

Business Analysis

Business analysis is a research discipline identifying business needs and determining solutions to business problems. From a data governance perspective, solutions consist of process improvements, organisational changes, documentation gaps, or strategic planning.

This is particularly helpful in supporting the mapping of cross-functional data lineages and business processes and identifying improvement areas.

You might find certifications like the BCS Business Analysis Diploma on a CV.

Change Management

A change manager uses a structured approach to move an organisation from a current state to a future desired state. It is an adjunct, but distinctly different, skill set to project management.  

This is not to be confused with the IT concept of ‘Change Control’ as it is more about planning and introducing new processes and ways of working to the firm.

Change management focuses on engaging the people impacted by the change and ensuring that they are supported through the emotional stages of change so that the new way of working has a higher chance of success.

You might find qualifications like APMG International or PROSCI on a CV.

Data Analysis

Data analysis refers to using analytical and statistical tools to gather and evaluate large quantities of information. A data analyst collects, organises and studies data to provide business insight.

You will find these kinds of people in reporting teams, business intelligence or competitive intelligence teams, or innovation or data science teams.

There are many routes into data analysis, but not all require formal certifications. The BCS, the Open University, and City and Guilds are some of the qualifications people may pursue – especially if they are moving sideways into data analytics.

Data Governance

Data governance is the core component of data management, tying together nine other disciplines, such as data quality, reference and master data management, data security, database operations, metadata management, and data warehousing.

The capability sits between the business and the IT team(s). Again, there are many formal and informal routes into this space, including DAMA and ICCP certifications.

Information Governance

In law firms, this capability tends to be found in the Records Management Team, Data Protection Office, or the Office of the General Counsel.

Information governance helps with legal compliance, operational transparency, and reducing data/information storage expenditures. It encompasses more than traditional records management and often includes knowledge management.

The Venn diagram overlap between information and data governance will be drawn differently for every firm.

There are undergraduate and post-graduate qualifications in this discipline as well as certifications like ARMA International or CILIP Chartered Membership.

Public Speaking

This is literally the process or act of performing a speech to a live audience. It is commonly understood as a formal, face-to-face speaking of a single person to a group of listeners, but in the age of virtual communication, it can also include the ability to hold the attention of a large (30+) group. This may include being able to handle rapid-fire questions and/or facilitate group discussions.

Since data governance is about changing the firm’s behaviour, the data governance lead role is, in part, a sales role.


The quality of being trusted and believed in is perhaps the most important characteristic of a data governance lead. They need to be in a position to influence and persuade people of all levels across the firm, and doing this from a platform of credibility will make them that much more successful.

Credibility is hard to quantify, but look for people who have led or been really closely involved in cross-functional, firmwide change projects. Another approach is to see if a candidate has successfully delivered unpopular changes or can give examples of persuading stakeholders to do something differently.

Of course, being involved in data governance at another law firm previously may give your data governance lead the most credible position.

Empathy and Influencing

Listening empathically entails making an emotional connection with the other person and finding similarities between their experience and your own so you can give a more heartfelt response. Also called active listening or reflective listening, empathic listening means you are offering support and encouragement rather than advice or criticism.

This can sometimes be hard to do when you are in a role which requires you to create consensus for standards and then implement those standards. Strong influencing skills are a must-have for your data governance lead. They need to be able to guide people around to their way of thinking about a specific topic without force or coercion while acknowledging and valuing their opinions.


In any law firm, documentation is the primary method of communicating information. This could be by creating a formal document in MS Word, using intranet pages effectively, or more simply by being effective in the emails and presentations, you create and share.

The spectrum of formal documentation also stretches out to process mapping, lineage mapping, business glossary creation (definition drafting is a skill in itself), strategy creation, and much more.

All of these rely on effective communication, which is far more than just an exchange of information. It is about understanding the emotions and intent behind the information and presenting it in a way that resonates with and influences the intended audience.

Team Leadership or Management

These skills enable the data governance lead to lead a group of employees. Leaders use their skills to provide direction which includes assigning and monitoring tasks. A differentiating skill is the ability to mentor, coach, and teach so that all of their colleagues in the data governance framework you create can learn as much about data governance as they want – and this might go beyond their day jobs. Which in turn creates your CoE staff pipeline…

Other leadership and management skills include problem-solving, decision-making, planning, strategising, multitasking, etc. These skills can be taught to a keen individual if the potential data governance lead is an internal candidate at a slightly more junior level than you had planned.

Finding a data governance lead

Data is neither owned by a single function nor an individual system owner but is an asset the firm holds. However, the firm must identify and assign specific roles and responsibilities to appropriately govern and manage data. A data governance lead is one of those roles. Like other roles within a data governance framework, the specific job title is not standard but will align with your firm’s similar positions. It could be labelled as a “Data Governance Lead”, or it could be known as a “Data Governance Manager”.

The key is to remember that they provide oversight and support for data governance to ensure awareness and participation across the firm. They also drive decisions on data standards, definitions, and best practices. They do this by becoming the driving force of data governance and coordinating the Data Governance Centre of Excellence.

Look for someone that has a passion for data and excellent communication skills. They will be responsible for guiding, coaching, and supporting other stakeholders. The person you choose needs to be a credible public speaker, display empathy, and produce excellent written materials.

This means a data governance lead could be found anywhere in the firm. Skills like project management, business analysis, or lineage mapping can be taught. However, It takes more work to teach enthusiasm for helping the firm to have good-quality data.

A key element of a firm’s data governance success is its ability to find and appoint a data governance lead (internally or externally), regardless of whether this person is a senior manager or a full-blown CDO. 

The firm is (broadly) appointing a conductor of the data orchestra that can bring all the firm’s data activities:

  • Data Architecture
  • Information Security
  • Records Management
  • Information Governance
  • Operational Data Activities
  • Data Science
  • Reporting Capabilities 
  • Innovation Teams
  • Legal Tech 

together under a framework so that discussion forums and standardised decision-making enable everyone to understand the entire spectrum of data in the firm.

Being broadly inclusive and transparent in communication and decision-making will give everyone confidence that all this data is being managed through its life cycle in the best way for everybody and in compliance with regulatory and point obligations.

So that means that this person has to be:

  • An effective communicator with a passion for data 
  • Credible to senior stakeholders, able to become the driving force of data governance and coordinating the Data Governance Centre of Excellence.
  • Able to understand users or blaster and its data use 
  • Able to facilitate discussion and consensus building. 
  • Understand project management and change management.

I hope this article has helped you with the process of finding a skilled data governance lead for your firm.

If you have any questions or would like to talk about your data governance journey with us, please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or via the book a call button below.