Of the five general forms of leadership, the chief knowledge officer (CKO) is typically the most visible, least understood, and highest paid member of any knowledge management (KM) initiative. Unlike senior managers, a CKO typically has no underlying power base and minimal support staff, and can’t make significant decisions without first being empowered by senior management. Although the typical role of a CKO is in strategically defining a KM infrastructure and in fostering a knowledge culture, the CKO usually wears many hats, ranging from human resources representative and knowledge gatekeeper to process coordinator and public relations liaison. What’s more, unless the CKO is politically perceptive and actually facilitates ongoing KM efforts, the employees in the trenches may view the CKO as simply an empty suit that is best avoided.
One of the most significant issues regarding the CKO position is whether it warrants full- or part-time focus. In most cases, because the tasks of the CKO are simply amplified and focused versions of those performed by general management, there is usually a critical organization size below which a full-time CKO isn’t needed. In addition, someone has to be constantly in charge of collecting, organizing, maintaining, archiving and distributing information. Normally, this function isn’t performed by the CKO but by knowledge integrators, who are also responsible for actively seeking information to add to the knowledge store. Because of the variability in what can be expected of the CKO, the requirements for the position are necessarily broad. Although there is no formal CKO certification and no university tracks leading to a degree in CKO, most successful CKOs share some general traits.