the essential role of data stewards in a data governance project

In the digital age, data flows through businesses as profusely as water flows down mountains. The people responsible for protecting and directing a company’s data are called data stewards. They are the guardians of data integrity, ensuring information is accurate, accessible, reliable and secure. Moreover, they are strategic enablers that bridge the gap between raw data and actionable insights, helping organizations harness the power of data to maintain a competitive edge in a rapidly changing world.

Along with protecting sensitive information by collecting, analyzing and reporting data accurately and transparently, data stewards ensure compliance with stringent data protection laws like GDPR, and newly introduced sustainability reporting regulations, such as the European Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).

Data stewards are crucial. But what is it they do, exactly? How do they protect and manage company data? And what do you need to consider when selecting the best people for the role? Read on to discover how to set up your company for successful data stewardship.

What do data stewards do?

Businesses generate vast amounts of data from various sources, and the complexity of managing this data—known as data governance—has increased dramatically in recent years. Data governance and data stewardship go hand in hand. While data governance encompasses the overall management of data within an organization, data stewardship focuses on the day-to-day tasks of maintaining and safeguarding data. However, data stewards do more than just play an operational role, they also implement key strategies that keep a company’s data-focused initiatives running smoothly and effectively.

Imagine a bustling restaurant kitchen with different work stations: the pastry station, grill, appetizers, sauces, etc. Each station has a chef skilled in their specific culinary area, but there is also a head chef overseeing them all. The head chef is the resident expert. They ensure every dish is prepared to perfection. Similarly, a data steward is a subject matter expert within their data domain. They possess a deep understanding of specific data sets and how to work with them.

In a restaurant kitchen, each dish has a recipe and a list of ingredients—the input that makes up the meal. In data terms, this is metadata. Like chefs planning dishes, data stewards create and manage metadata for their data sets. Head chefs also perform tasks behind the scenes, such as ensuring the quality of ingredients and choosing the best cooking techniques or presentation methods. Data stewards similarly ensure data quality through activities like data profiling, cleansing and establishing governance standards.

The roles and responsibilities of data stewards

The data domains within an organization are akin to the work stations in a kitchen. They’re logical groupings of types of data, such as customer, product and location data. A data steward oversees one or more data domains, taking on a range of primary responsibilities:

  • Ensuring data quality: This involves data profiling, cleansing, root cause analysis, and regular auditing.
  • Managing metadata: Maintaining business glossaries, reviewing term submissions, and ensuring clear, concise definitions.
  • Enforcing data governance: Implementing and monitoring data-related roles, policies, standards and processes.
  • Contributing to documentation: Helping to create and document data roles and standards based on professional expertise and stakeholder feedback.
  • Monitoring data usage: Identifying ways to leverage data to drive enterprise objectives.


As you can see, the role of a data steward encompasses a wide array of responsibilities tailored towards optimizing the use of data while ensuring its integrity.

One of the primary roles of data stewards is data quality management, which includes identifying and correcting errors, ensuring consistency, and verifying that the data in use is up to date. This involves auditing, reporting and remediation activities that help maintain the data at the standard necessary for operational and analytical accuracy.

Data stewards are also deeply involved in metadata management. They create and maintain clear documentation that describes various data elements and their contexts, making data understandable and usable for technical and non-technical stakeholders alike. This includes defining data terms clearly, documenting data lineage, and ensuring that everyone in the organization understands what data is available, what it can be used for, and what its limitations are.

Furthermore, data stewards enforce data governance policies. They work collaboratively across departments to implement data access controls, ensuring that sensitive information is only accessible to authorized personnel. This role is crucial in preventing unauthorized data access and leaks, thereby protecting the enterprise from potential data misuse or theft. Through these efforts, data stewards not only safeguard data but also build a culture of accountability and data literacy within the organization.

How do you select a data steward?

Selecting a data steward is an important decision that requires careful consideration. While the specific requirements may vary depending on the organization’s needs, there are a few key qualities to look for in a potential data steward:

  • Subject matter expertise: Data stewards should have a deep understanding of the data for which they are responsible. This includes knowledge of data sources, usage and potential risks associated with the data.
  • Data-driven mindset: Data stewards must have a deep understanding and appreciation of the value of data. They should approach their role with an analytical mindset and be comfortable working with large amounts of information.
  • Attention to detail: Data stewards must demonstrate excellent attention to detail and have a keen eye for spotting inconsistencies or errors in data. They should also be able to identify patterns and trends within data sets.
  • Communication skills: Data stewards need to effectively communicate complex technical concepts to non-technical stakeholders. They should also be able to explain data-related issues and solutions in a clear and concise manner.
  • Collaborative nature: Data stewards often work with various teams and departments within an organization. Therefore, they should have strong collaborative skills and be able to build relationships with others.


The role of data steward requires a unique blend of skills, including technical knowledge, business insight and interpersonal abilities. These competencies enable data stewards to manage data effectively and advocate for its strategic use within their organization. Their ability to act as a liaison between IT and business units is critical for translating data-related activities into business value.

Everybody plays a part in data stewardship

Data stewardship is not just limited to those specifically designated as data stewards. In today’s data-driven world, almost everything we do involves some form of data and everyone within an organization has a role to play in ensuring the accuracy of data and its responsible use.

Data literacy is important for employees at all levels. To ensure they are using data correctly and ethically, all employees must have a clear understanding of the organization’s data policies and procedures. They need to know how data is collected, stored and used within the organization. Additionally, everyone within the organization is responsible for the quality of the data they produce. This inclusive approach to data stewardship empowers every employee to take responsibility for the data they handle, thereby decentralizing data governance and enhancing overall data quality.

How to implement data stewardship: Overcoming the 4 biggest challenges

Implementing effective data stewardship not only requires new processes, but also new attitudes and behaviors. It’s important to be prepared for the challenges that may arise during this process:

  • Shifting the company culture: It is integral to cultivate a company culture that views data as a vital strategic asset—everyone must learn to prioritize data accuracy and integrity. Data stewards often lead the charge in advocating for the prioritization of data governance by demonstrating how it can directly benefit the different departments.
  • Getting everyone on board: Change management is a crucial aspect of successful data stewardship. Changes are often met with resistance from employees who are comfortable with the current processes and systems. This challenge can be overcome by involving stakeholders in the decision-making process and addressing their concerns.
  • Allocating resources: Data stewardship requires dedicated resources, in terms of both time and budget. Organizations may struggle to allocate these resources due to competing priorities. To overcome this, data stewards can demonstrate the ROI of effective data management by showcasing its impact on business outcomes.
  • Breaking down data silos: Data stewards need to work collaboratively across departments to ensure that data is not only shared but also consistently managed across the enterprise. This can necessitate the dismantling of data silos that have been entrenched in an organization for years. Achieving this requires robust communication channels and often, the implementation of integrated data management systems that support data visibility and accessibility across the organization.


By addressing these challenges head-on, data stewards can help to foster a culture that sees data as a critical asset, leading to sustained business growth and success.

The future is data-based

The role of data stewards in a modern business transcends traditional data management. They do much more than simply maintain data; they enhance data quality, enforce regulatory compliance, manage metadata, and ultimately, unlock the true potential of data-driven decision-making. They are the head chefs in the complex kitchen of data management, playing crucial roles in ensuring the precision and reliability of the data their companies depend on.

With the rapid growth of data and the swift advancement of technologies and regulations, the need for skilled data stewards is more pressing than ever. Modern businesses that recognize and empower their data stewards are better equipped to leverage their data for competitive advantage, regulatory compliance, and enhanced operational efficiency. In the digital age, data stewards are essential for business success in any data-driven enterprise.

Ready to optimize your business with data stewardship?

Mathias Vercauteren, Senior Data Governance Consultant at LACO

Mathias Vercauteren

Senior Data Governance Consultant at LACO

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