4 skill sets for successful data stewards

Do you want to be  successful data steward? This question sounds like a sales pitch, it’s not. If you want to be a successful data steward, you need to have these 4 sets of skills.

You need to have the business know-how and experience, technical skills, analysis skills and interpersonal skills. OK, so you’re basically superman or superwoman. Let’s break these skills down.


1. Business know-how skill set

Data Stewards are the subject matter experts of the business in terms of data. Data Stewards understand the data in an enterprise and especially in their own department often better than anyone else; But remember that Data Stewardship is not an IT function it is a business function. In order for data steward to be successful they need to have knowledge of the business. That’s why data stewardship roles are given to those with experience in that business line of work. A lot of times the data stewardship responsibilities are tagged onto the main business role. If you’re a marketing analyst, you could also have data stewardship responsibilities as part of that role. Other times it’s a dedicated role that’s called out as such: Data Steward, or Marketing Data Steward as a lot of times it’s dedicated to a specific business area, but it could also be enterprise wide.

Again, a successful data steward needs to have knowledge of the business and have a business acumen. They need to understand the business needs that inform how data should be stewarded and the business impacts that happen as a result of changes in data or as a result of not addressing data issues. Because of that the data steward should have the ability to talk data geek to the technical IT partners.

2. Technical skill set

The data steward is the go-to person for all types of end users for data usage and even data management, so they should be well-versed in the business uses of data, business terms, and the data elements related to them.

A data steward also has knowledge of the physical implementation of these business terms. They know where to find data elements within the computing infrastructure and how they relate to business concepts and other data elements. Yes, they do more than just talk data geek, they are usually the subject matter experts. So it helps to have at least a bit of know-how in data warehousing, data modeling, data profiling, and relational databases. Plus in our growing big data world, it helps to have an understanding of non-relational systems. And you know what? At least exposure to a primary programming language never hurts.

3. Analysis skill set

When things go south, some of the data issues can be very detailed and complex. A good data steward will have the tenacity to tackle these issues and see them through to their conclusion, and that conclusion isn’t just about solving the issue, but also identifying and fixing the cause of the issue, whenever possible. For this it’s great to have at least some business and technical analysis skills.


4. Interpersonal skill set

A data steward must be a good facilitator, communicator, negotiator, and enforcer. Besides, regardless of the formal authority, the data steward must be able to earn the respect of others.  The data steward must always look at broader impacts a even if they officially only represent one area.  So this means that a data steward should be inquisitive in all things and diplomatic at the same time. Not an easy balance to achieve. The data steward also has the ability to communicate effectively with all levels of the organization to show the value of the data stewardship function and help evangelize the importance of data.



As you can see, the ideal data steward is an individual with a rare combination of skills, from technical and business acumen to analysis and interpersonal skills. The data stewards are an invaluable asset to the organization, whether cultivated from existing staff or hired from outside the organization. They are the keystone of any effective data governance and management program.

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    About the author 

    George Firican

    George Firican is the Director of Data Governance and Business Intelligence at the University of British Columbia, which is ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world. His passion for data led him towards award-winning program implementations in the data governance, data quality, and business intelligence fields. Due to his desire for continuous improvement and knowledge sharing, he founded LightsOnData, a website which offers free templates, definitions, best practices, articles and other useful resources to help with data governance and data management questions and challenges. He also has over twelve years of project management and business/technical analysis experience in the higher education, fundraising, software and web development, and e-commerce industries.

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