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Who's Winning the WAGE Wars?

​The median compensation for security professionals rose 2 percent in 2013 to $100,000, while the average annual compensation for security professionals rose 4 percent to $138,000, according to the 2013 ASIS International U.S. Security Salary Survey. The 11th annual survey was conducted in March 2013 and reflects the responses of 1,363 members of ASIS International. Ahead is analysis based on factors such as company sector, the responsibilities of the position, and qualifications of the security professional, all of which have traditionally provided reliable indicators of compensation.


One of the key indicators is the distinction between private, public, and government employers.

Security professionals working for publicly-traded companies reported the highest median salary of $115,000. These were closely followed by employees of the federal government, who earned a median salary of $113,000. The average for those working in publicly-traded companies was $145,000, while for those in the federal government, it came in much closer to the median at $127,000.

To understand the significance of those ranges, you need to know the difference between median and average salaries. The median number represents the mid-point of the salary range and is the most reliable indicator of the typical salary. The average salary is all salaries combined and divided by the number of entries. High and low outliers can skew the average. Thus, the fact that there is a smaller gap between the two in the government sector suggests that in the government sector, there are fewer outliers—fewer people earning considerably more or less than their colleagues.

The relatively dramatic difference between averages in the two sectors, however, indicates that much more of the total wage pool is found in the higher salary ranges in the publicly-traded sector. This suggests a career strategy designed to maximize personal income should begin in the government sector, where starting salaries are higher, then transition to the private sector in mid-career to take advantage of the higher pay ranges at upper levels.

Respondents working for privately-held companies (companies that do not issue stocks that will be publicly traded) reported a median salary of $99,000 and an average salary of $127,000.

Local government employees reported a median compensation of $93,000. Security professionals working for nonprofit organizations earned a median compensation of $91,000, but had the most dramatic difference between median and average rates with the average salary in 2013 in this sector being $160,000.

Smaller government entities reported a tight grouping between medians and averages. Security positions with state governments paid the lowest of all types, with a median compensation of just $70,000 and an average of $72,000.

Critical infrastructure. Thirty-five percent of respondents worked with one of the 17 areas of critical infrastructure identified in the survey. The range of wage levels among these sectors suggests that the relevant skill sets and the financial impact of a security failure influence compensation. Shipping ($136,000), Telecommunications ($126,000), and Energy ($117,000) ranked as the top three. Large Gathering Sites ($88,000), Water/Waste Management ($86,000), and Special Events ($76,000) ranked as the bottom three.

Company Profile

The size of the company by number of employees does not appear to have great influence on the level of compensation. The survey found a fairly tight distribution range of medians, with $113,000 being the median for those in companies that have more than 50,000 employees and $92,000 being the median for those in companies that have fewer than 100 employees.

Revenues. Another factor against which compensation trends can be measured is the gross revenue of the company. The results of the analysis show a fairly logical progression from the smallest companies with less than $5 million in annual revenue offering a median $85,000 to the largest with more than $20 billion in revenue offering a median $121,000.

Locations. Another traditionally reliable factor is the number and distribution of physical plants for which the security professional is responsible. Those charged with the security of sites within a single state reported a median compensation of $82,000. Those responsible for facilities that were regional or national reported a median of $109,000. International organizations with facilities in different countries dramatically raise the bar, with security professionals overseeing those earning a median compensation of $134,000.


Aspects specific to the reporting structure of the position also offer some key indicators that are closely related to the level of compensation. One clear indicator was simply whether the position was the top of the security function in the organization. Those indicating they were the top security professional reported a median compensation of $110,000. Other management positions earned a median $100,000.

Another factor is what division or executive the head of security reports to. The impact on compensation of reporting to the CEO or C-suite is not what one might expect, and the findings provide a helpful counterpoint to the traditional inclination to wish for the security function to have a direct line to or place in the C-suite.

Security professionals who report directly to the top executive reported a median compensation of $100,000. Those who identified themselves as part of the C-level of executives reported a median income of $101,000. These positions were far outpaced by security professionals organized within the legal department who reported a median income of $129,000. Those reporting to the IT services department had a median income of $111,000.

It is likely that the reason security professionals reporting to a layer below the CEO appear on average to earn more than those reporting directly to the CEO is that they would tend to be in larger organizations where overall compensation would be greater.

In-house v. contract. Eighty percent of respondents were directly employed by the company for which they provided security. These security professionals reported a median income of $101,000. The other 20 percent of respondents were consultants or were employed by security service providers and reported a median compensation of $105,000. The modest 5 percent higher compensation reported by consultants and service providers clearly does not compensate for the far more modest benefits common in this sector.

Skills and education. Qualifications and experience also affect compensation. Fully 29 percent of respondents held a Master’s Degree and reported a median compensation of $115,000. Forty-one percent of respondents had completed an undergraduate degree and reported a median income of $101,000. Just 2 percent of respondents held a Juris Doctorate and earned a median $176,000. The 26 percent of participants reporting education levels less than an undergraduate degree earned median incomes from $80,000 to $90,000.

More than half of respondents to the survey held the widely recognized industry credential of Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and earned a median $115,000. Those with a Physical Security Professional (PSP) and Professional Certified Investigator (PCI) credential earned a median $100,000 and $98,000 respectively. Those with specific credentials in fraud and IT security, such as the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), earned median incomes of $158,000 and $141,000 respectively.

Experience. Another key indicator within the area of personal qualifications is how many years of experience a person has in the discipline of security management. The clear and steady progression through the years of experience is as follows: a median of $80,000 for those with less than 10 years of experience, $99,000 for those with 10-19 years, and $124,000 for those with 20-29 years of experience. Those with more than 30 years of experience earned a median of $115,000, likely reflecting a soft transition to retirement for many in this bracket.

The results of the 2013 ASIS International U.S. Security Salary Survey provide an excellent perspective on the key indicators that correlate to compensation trends in the security profession.

Mike Moran is special projects editor at Security Management.