How to Get Executive Buy-In for IT Projects

Executives often lack a deep technical background, making it challenging for IT professionals to convey the value of new initiatives. These strategies can bridge this gap and secure buy-in.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology analyst

May 28, 2024

6 Min Read
business person stamping a document

If you work in IT long enough, you'll live through a scenario like this: You want to launch a new initiative that you're certain will benefit the business by increasing efficiency, lowering risk, or improving security.

But when you explain the project to your boss — or your boss's boss's boss, depending on where you sit in the organizational hierarchy — your idea is dismissed because the executive you're explaining it to doesn't see the value.

Sometimes, this happens because your initiative isn't as great as you believe. But too often it's because the executive you're trying to pitch to simply misunderstands your vision due to a lack of technical background. After all, the typical executive does not have an extensive understanding of IT technology and processes, and without that context, it can be hard to see the value of new IT initiatives.

Fortunately, this doesn't mean that it's impossible to get executives to buy into innovative IT projects. But it does mean that you may need to be strategic about how you communicate those projects or the value they can bring.

Why Explaining IT to Executives Can Be Hard

It's a stereotype to say that executives don't understand complex technology, but it's also not entirely wrong. After all, most executives are hired for their business leadership and strategy skills, not for hard technical expertise.

Even executives who oversee technical parts of the business, like chief information officers (CIOs), chief technology officers (CTOs), and chief information security officers (CISOs), sometimes do not have backgrounds working in IT or related fields. And even if they do, it has typically been years since they were last in the trenches of an IT department. They have likely not kept up-to-date about the latest IT trends, challenges, or opportunities.

This is the main reason why getting executives on board with new IT initiatives can be tough. They simply don't view technology through the same lens as the practitioners who work with technology on an everyday basis.

On top of that, executives also tend to have different priorities. They are concerned with overall business efficiency, competitiveness, and agility, whereas employees in IT roles are more focused on the specific systems they manage. Ideas that are technically sound but do not create clear business value may therefore appeal to IT practitioners but not executives.

For instance, you as an IT engineer may know that adopting a new monitoring or observability tool will help your team work more efficiently. But unless an executive knows that the efficiency will translate to business benefits like lower staffing costs or fewer customer-impacting outages, the initiative may be a hard sell.

Tips for Getting Executive Buy-In

How do you overcome barriers like these to get executive buy-in for IT innovation? There's no simple solution, but the following strategies can help.

Collect data focused on business outcomes

The more data you can bring to the discussion, and the more your data demonstrates the business benefit of your idea, the more likely you will be able to sell the project successfully to an executive.

Data helps confirm that the perceived benefits of your initiative are not just anecdotal. It also helps quantify exactly how much business value the project will drive — and again, executives tend to be all about business value.

Engage the board

Executives often answer to corporate boards, which means that getting the board on board with IT projects is a great way to get executives to buy into a change, too.

Typically, IT engineers don't have direct access to the board. But they can signal the value of new initiatives to board members in indirect ways, such as by writing about challenges they face and solutions that would solve them in annual reports that board members may review.

In addition, packaging ideas in ways that are easy for executives to sell themselves to the board can help increase buy-in. When you frame your idea in a way that is digestible not just for a specific executive, but for the entire board, you streamline the path to approval in cases where executives are concerned about ensuring the board will support new IT initiatives.

Align ideas with stated business goals or priorities

Most businesses articulate formal goals or priorities. They may include them in mission statements, and they often come up in presentations that executives occasionally give to employees, boards, and so on.

It can be tempting to write off some of these statements as mere fluff or assume that they are high-level ideas that don't have much impact on what happens day-to-day. But the reality is that business goals do matter to many executives, and if you can make your IT project sound like it aligns perfectly with whatever executives say is a business priority at the given moment, your idea becomes much easier to approve.

For example, if an executive gives a presentation focused on how enhancing the customer experience is a key goal for the coming year, you'd do well to frame your IT initiative as a way to help achieve that goal — even if customer experience is not actually the primary focus of whatever it is you want to do.

Point to what others have done

There's merit to the old saying that just because everyone else is jumping off a bridge doesn't mean you should, too. Nonetheless, showing that other organizations (or departments within your organization) have embarked on projects similar to the one you want to pursue can help achieve executive buy-in — especially if you can combine that point with evidence showing the business value that the project is likely to achieve.

Don't expect an executive to approve a project just because your competitor has announced a similar initiative, or because a company in a different industry implemented the same tool or solution recently. But being able to show that your company would be in good company by pursuing your proposed project is likely to make the initiative more feasible in executive eyes.


Getting executives to buy into IT projects can be tough, due both to lack of technical depth on the part of business leaders and different priorities between IT practitioners and business executives. But when you can communicate your vision in a way that highlights its value for the business as a whole, and that avoids getting into the technical weeds, you set yourself up for obtaining approval of the idea by any executive.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

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