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Identifying the correct organizational structure for the data governance program and naming the roles with the proper titles will ensure credibility and visibility for data governance and data management across the organization

For many organizations, titles are one of the ways that performance is distinguished or acknowledged, while in other organizations there is no coherence in how different people’s activities are classified.  In many efforts, a title does not “mean” anything outside the particular environment, but in the world of data governance, a title can convey deep meanings.

In a search for the various titles found in different data governance programs, one may discover the following list: data steward, business data steward, technical data steward, data owner, data custodian, data manager, chief data steward, etc.…  Do these titles mean anything in the realm of enterprise data management and are they being used correctly by organizations?  The answers to these questions are “Yes, they do mean something specific,” and “No, many organizations do not use them correctly.”

The titles “data steward”, “data owner”, “data manager” often are considered to be synonyms, but they are in fact different roles.  They denote very different responsibilities, skills and expectations for performance.


Figure 1 – Example Data Governance Organizational Structure

Data Governance Roles and Titles

Data Governance Practice Manager / Leader is responsible for the operation of the data governance practice and its implementation in the organization.  He or she has operational oversight of all activities associated with data governance and alignment with the data stewardship bodies.  This includes chairmanship of the Data Governance Council, participation in the Data Stewardship Coordinating Group, oversight of the data governance team budget, the training and education of involved members of the organization concerning data governance and data stewardship, etc.  A good Data Governance Practice Manager can make a practice effective, and the absence of a good Practice Manager can doom an effort.  This person must be an experienced data governance and data management professional with demonstrated leadership skills.

Data Governance Specialist is a data governance and data management professional who is part of the Data Governance team / practice, and reports to the Data Governance Practice Manager.  Each specialist is responsible for a portion of the duties of the unit, which usually include policy and process development and enhancement, meeting management and coordination, data governance and data stewardship education and training, project work with the data stewards, etc…  Each Data Governance Practice team should be staffed with an adequate number of specialists to support the work of the program across the organization.

Data Stewards are business people who have been charged with the formation and execution of policies for the management of data and metadata – usually in a particular focus area: finance, operations, marketing, human resources, underwriting, etc.  Depending on the level of the individual steward, he or she may be responsible for advising the organization on governance of categories of data, on definition of data and its usage, and on the implementation of data governance policies through the activities of stewards and data managers.  The stewards are responsible for the quality of data and metadata that is part of their functional area, and work to ensure that the data governance policies are focused at the enterprise level.  Most organizations have several data stewards for each major functional area, while some smaller functional areas may share one steward.

Lead Data Stewards are those data stewards who are given responsibility for the overall management of the stewardship function for a particular area.  They manage the stewardship activities of the data stewards in their area; sometimes they are responsible for the data stewardship of one or more sections of that area.  Unlike line management, data stewards and their lead data stewards do not have a direct reporting relationship to the data governance program.  Rather they remain in their business area while serving on project teams to address data issues under the guidance of the data governance program.  All the lead data stewards of an organization comprise the data stewardship coordinating group, where decisions that affect the data management of more than one functional area, or the entire enterprise, are made.

Who leads the lead data stewards?  Many organizations have called the leader of the lead stewards the chief data steward, as the “first among equals” in the lead stewards’ role.  The Chief Data Steward represents all the data stewards at executive / leadership meetings and is a peer in data matters to the Data Governance Practice Manager / Leader.

Data Managers may be referred to as “data custodians” and they play a role that is different from a data steward.  A data manager or custodian is the person who implements the data delivery process in concert with the business representatives (the data stewards).  Data custodians / managers advise on the technologies used in data management, and enable the user community to access and manipulate the data.  In many organizations, they reside in Information Technology departments and have developed deep skills in technologies that support enterprise data management.

Data Owners are usually those business people who have direct line responsibility for a functional area.  They are not stewards, but they work with the appointed stewards to ensure the correct definition and use of data and assist in the identification and management of data quality for their area.  As leaders in the user community, they are part of the team that drives the data governance process, since the need for data governance should originate and be maintained in the business community.  Often, these data owners are represent their area on the Data Governance Council and other data-related organizational bodies.


In data governance and stewardship, developing and implementing the proper titles can demonstrate to the entire organization that data governance and stewardship have brought a new culture to the landscape.  The use of the right titles can assist in developing a sustainable appreciation for the beneficial nature of enterprise data management throughout the organization.


Dr. David P. Marco, LinkedIn Top BI Voice, IDMMA Data Mgt. Professional of the Year, Fellow IIM, CBIP, CDP

Dr. David P. Marco, PhD, Fellow IIM, CBIP, CDP is best known as the world’s foremost authority on data governance and metadata management, he is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of CDO, data management, data literacy, and advanced analytics. He has earned many industry honors, including Crain’s Chicago Business “Top 40 Under 40”, named by DePaul University as one of their “Top 14 Alumni Under 40”, and he is a Professional Fellow in the Institute of Information Management. In 2022, CDO Magazine named Dr. Marco one of the Top Data Consultants in North America and IDMMA named him their Data Management Professional of the Year. In 2023 he earned LinkedIn’s Top BI Voice. Dr. Marco won the prestigious BIG Innovation award in 2024. David Marco is the author of the widely acclaimed two top-selling books in metadata management history, “Universal Meta Data Models” and “Building and Managing the Meta Data Repository” (available in multiple languages). In addition, he is a co- author of numerous books and published hundreds of articles, some of which are translated into Mandarin, Russian, Portuguese, and others. He has taught at the University of Chicago and DePaul University.

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