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Career Pathways in Security

A career in security management comes with diverse options for growth and impact, and the many different pathways available are not always clear or intuitive.When students are trying to plan for their future, or more tenured professionals are contemplating a career transition, there are many questions. What traits and competencies do professionals need at different stages in their careers? Should individuals focus on becoming more specialized or growing into broader responsibilities? How can you take your career to the next level?

ASIS International partnered with the Security Industry Association (SIA) to answer these very questions in the Security Industry Career Pathways Guide. ASIS and SIA commissioned McKinley Advisors, who analyzed more than 2,400 survey results, conducted numerous telephone interviews, and performed other research, to develop the guide.

One finding is that, unlike some professions that provide a linear career path, security is diverse, comprising many job roles, salary levels, career opportunities, and sectors. At the highest level, security can include a multitude of functions for business organizations related to the provision of security services and technology. Employment opportunities range in terms of salary and position from entry-level security officer positions to investigators specializing in specific areas to directors at major global corporations.

Security spans a variety of sectors and markets and each specialty has its own set of requirements and issues, such as shoplifting, privacy rights, or data security. Security also has interrelationships with other departments or areas, such as risk management, safety, law, finance, business continuity, network and computer security, risk analysis, facility management, and others.

The diversity of the profession provides opportunities for horizontal career growth potential, in which roles expand into other business functions or areas in addition to security. In today's technologically advanced and globalized market, jobs are becoming even more complex in terms of focus and growth opportunities. All of this makes security management a challenging and exciting profession to navigate, define, and understand.

Three Career Stages

Security professionals generally fall into one of three career stages. The accompanying infographic (page 44) describes each of these career stages—examining sample job titles and responsibilities, core traits and competencies that enable someone to master each role—and identifies the skill gaps that can help people at each stage excel and grow.

Professional Level: These are the doers; people who are generally at the beginning of their security careers.

Management Level: These are the delegators; the people who manage specific security functions and supervise people to carry out security duties.

Executive Level: These are the visionaries; the people who bring strategic and critical acumen to helping an organization protect its assets.

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For example, security professionals at the management level may have a job titles such as Director of Global Security or, simply, Security Manager. They will have oversight over one or more security functions, will direct and coordinate resources to accomplish those functions, be able to develop and implement strategies to understand and manage risk, and will likely have some budgeting, strategy, and human resources responsibilities. A successful security manager will have a strong grasp of security fundamentals and risk management and possess a high degree of leadership capability and integrity. To advance in their careers, security managers should work on acquiring general business acumen—understanding how security and other business functions interrelate—and gain a thorough understanding of compliance and regulatory issues.

The Security Industry Career Pathways Guide provides considerable information on each stage: how it was identified; detail on the knowledge, experience, and traits common to professionals at each stage; and what skills and competencies bridge from one level to the next.​

Advancing to the Next Career Stage

The study also explored what fields, areas of study, or background security management practitioners came from prior to entering the security profession. In terms of educational backgrounds, most professionals working in security have obtained a master's or bachelor's degree. Some of the more common areas of study include criminal justice, business administration, business management, political science, law enforcement and correction, economics, security management, information or systems technology, computer science, terrorism, emergency management, personnel management, or information management.

After obtaining a degree, professionals may take an entry-level position—a professional-level role—in security management and grow their careers from there, or they may come to security from an entirely different sector. The most common backgrounds include law enforcement, military, or business administration and management from another sector. A managerial or executive-level professional, for example, can come from a long career in the security profession, growing from professional to managerial to executive, or transition into the field from higher levels within military, law, or another sector.

There are several common ways for security professionals to increase their expertise and credibility in gap areas, including certifications and credentialing opportunities. The most common include the Certified Protection Professional (CPP©) and Physical Security Professional (PSP©) certifications, as well as the Certified Security Project Manager (CSPM) and Project Management Professional (PMP) for those interested in project management credentials. Additionally, volunteering with an association, or serving as a mentor to a less experienced professional can also boost a professional's engagement with the industry.

Security professionals looking to advance to the next career stage should be developing and working improvement strategies that build on the skills and competencies they already have, so that they continue to excel in their current roles, while also working to acquire knowledge and experience required to excel at the next level.

ASIS International will be incorporating the career pathways research into its program and content development strategies. The goal is to provide resources that security professionals can use to advance their careers. ASIS will be intentional, both in developing a suite of resources for all three career stages and in describing and promoting those resources so that security professionals can easily identify the ones that will be most beneficial to their career development.

Likewise, security professionals need to be intentional in how they approach career advancement. Security professionals may find that they fall neatly into one of the types described in the guide. Many will not, however, and that is part of the point. The myriad of security career pathways underscores the diverse nature of the profession. The guide can help professionals understand where they are and how they can use resources from ASIS and other sources to help them get where they want to go.