The Earning Curve
Print Issue: August 2011
SALARIES ARE UP FOR U.S. SECURITY professionals in 2011, continuing the trend from 2010, though the median pace has slowed to a modest 3 percent from 6 percent the prior year. According to the 2011 ASIS International U.S. Security Salary Survey, the average annual compensation for security professionals in the United States is $111,000 while the median climbed to $96,000.
The survey was conducted in April 2011 and reflects the responses of 841 U.S.-based members of ASIS International. Respondents as a group are well-educated and experienced, with 71 percent holding at least a college degree and fully one-third of all participants having earned a master’s degree or higher. Fifty-one percent currently hold professional certifications, and fifty-nine percent have more than a decade of security management experience. More than half are the top-level security professional on staff.
Public or Private?
Security professionals employed by publicly traded firms reported much faster wage growth with an 8 percent rise in median compensation, while their colleagues employed by privately held companies saw compensation remain stagnant. The rising stock market is a considerable factor in this increase, with approximately 19 percent of security professionals reporting stock options as a portion of their compensation package. Because the market fared well in 2011, it increased the value of these options by 25 percent.
Security professionals at publicly traded firms comprise approximately one quarter of the survey’s sample and have historically been more highly paid, but the growth disparity in 2011 makes this comparison all the more stark. The average compensation for security professionals at publicly traded firms reached $128,000. Approximately half of those surveyed work for privately held firms and report an average of $109,000. The remainder of those surveyed work in the government/law enforcement or nonprofit sectors and saw more modest growth or even declines in their median compensation.
It is worth noting that while those in the government/law enforcement sector at the federal level saw a modest 2 percent increase, that sector remains an extremely attractive opportunity. Median compensation (the mid-point of the full range of reported salaries) at the federal level reached $119,000 and was higher than any other type of organization. Here the average compensation (the total dollars reported divided by the number of respondents) was $117,000.
One of the primary factors in the comparatively high median wage in the federal government/law enforcement sector is that even those at the lowest 10th percentile of the sector are still earning a respectable $83,000. The bottom 10th percentile working for privately held companies, by contrast, is earning just $50,000. An examination of the data indicates that this is not simply a matter of one sector being higher paid than another for a similar position. Rather, the private sector positions are more varied and offer entry-level opportunities for security professionals with less experience and fewer qualifications.
Conversely, at the 90th percentile (the top 10 percent), both the publicly traded and privately held firms offer their security professionals far more generous compensation packages—if they are among the most highly qualified—at $190,000 and $180,000, respectively. The 90th percentile at the federal government sector caps out at $150,000.
Security professionals working at the state and local level of government and law enforcement are far more exposed to larger economic forces and report both lower and slower growing wages. In 2011, the local law enforcement/government sector actually posted a 7 percent decline in median wages.
Other key compensation factors related to the company a person works for include the company’s gross revenue, the size of its security budget, and the industry. The top three sectors in regard to average compensation are: Natural Resources and Mining at $151,000; Construction at $128,000; and Transportation and Utilities at $131,000. Just 10 percent of respondents work in these sectors.
The positions have a high degree of responsibility and the people who fill them have substantial and often specialized experience and education. The Natural Resources and Construction sectors are also those reporting the highest percentage increase in median wages, at 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Twenty-five percent of respondents work for companies with gross revenue exceeding $5 billion, the highest revenue category in the survey. These individuals were the most highly paid, with a median salary of $120,000 and an average of $142,000.
Just 8 percent of respondents work for companies with a security budget exceeding $10 million, the highest tier in the survey. Compensation rates at this level are at a median of $136,000 and an average of $152,000. They take regular steps down in pay, correlating with the declining size of the security budget.
The qualifications of a security professional that are most closely correlated with higher compensation include years in security management, level of education attained, and professional certifications. Twenty-two percent of respondents report more than 20 years of experience in security management. They earn a median compensation of $109,000 and an average of $124,000.
The 31 percent of respondents holding a master’s degree earn a median compensation of $107,000 and an average of $125,000. The 38 percent of respondents with an undergraduate degree earn $97,000 and $113,000, respectively. Those with a two-year degree or some 4-year college experience, approximately 20 percent of the sample, earn in the mid-$80,000 range.
Most of those who graduated from technical schools received degrees more closely related to the work they were currently doing than those with associate degrees. The average salary for a security professional from a technical school is $102,000, compared to $88,000 for those with an associate’s degree. The disparity continues up through the 90th percentile, with technical school graduates earning $155,000, compared to $132,000 for those with an associate’s degree.
Continuing education plays a major role in the security industry; more than half of respondents currently hold professional certifications. Fully 78 percent of respondents pursued some form of professional development in the previous 12 months, at an average cost exceeding $3,000. More than half of respondents are fully reimbursed by their company for money spent on professional development. Thirty-five percent of respondents are not reimbursed at all for such expenses. Typically those being fully reimbursed for education are among the more highly compensated.
As expected, ASIS certifications are the most often held, with one-third of respondents currently holding a Certified Protection Professional® (CPP) designation. CPPs pulled down a median compensation of $108,000, about 12 percent higher than the median for all respondents; and an average of $122,000, 10 percent above the average for the survey population at large.
Five percent of respondents hold a Physical Security Professional® (PSP), earning a median of $102,000 and an average of $113,000. Just two percent of respondents currently hold the Professional Certified Investigator® (PCI); they earn an average salary of $96,000.
Seven percent of respondents hold the Certified Fraud Examiner certification, the most common non-ASIS credential held by members. They earn an average salary of $140,000.
The most lucrative skill sets in the security industry continue to be those demonstrated by professional certification in information security. Average salaries for Certified Information Systems Security Professionals (CISSPs) are $162,000 and for Certified Information Security Managers (CISMs) the average is $307,000.
Forty-nine percent of respondents hold no professional certification. For these, the median salary is $86,000 and the average is $105,000.
Aside from the type of company that employs the security professional and the skills they bring to the table, the nature of the position is the third most important factor in compensation. Titles, as it turns out, are a poor indicator of compensation, however.
Job-specific factors most closely correlated with the rate of compensation include the geographic breadth of responsibilities, the types of security responsibility, to which department the security function reports, and whether or not the position is the top-level in the security function.
Fifty-one percent of respondents describe themselves as the top-level security professional in their organization, a distinction for which the average compensation is $121,000, a full 20 percent higher than for those not at the top.
The most highly compensated when analyzed by reporting structure are those under the IT department, with an average of $137,000. Those reporting to the Legal and Human Resources departments both earn an average of $131,000.
Security professionals reporting directly to the CEO place fourth in order of compensation with an average of $119,000. While such a direct line of report from security to company leadership is to be envied for many practical reasons, it is typically found in smaller companies where compensation is lower. With larger companies come more complicated structures and less direct access.
Of all the duties described by respondents, the two most closely tied with the highest compensation levels are those of IT security and VIP security/executive protection outside of company property. Those safeguarding company data earn an average $130,000 while those charged with VIP security earn an average $137,000.
The factor that is historically the clearest determinant of compensation and the most consequential in terms of actual dollars is the geographic breadth of security responsibility. In average compensation those charged with security of a single facility earn $84,000, those responsible for multiple locations or facilities within a single state earn $90,000. If the facilities are interstate the average compensation is $112,000, and those who direct security operations for international companies earn on average $162,000.
The results of the 2011 ASIS International U.S. Security Salary Survey mark a second consecutive year in which compensation for security professionals has resumed its historic steady pace after experiencing a single year dip in 2009 related to the national recession. Many factors influencing compensation are clearly related to substantial experience in the profession, but the data describe clear paths for those seeking to lay the groundwork of a financially rewarding career.
As the profession becomes increasingly sophisticated, education and professional certifications are critical factors. Specific expertise in aspects of IT security is also a likely path to higher pay, and one that becomes more critical to the profession as virtually all aspects of physical security continue to require increasing levels of technical sophistication.