Developing strong interpersonal skills has long been a priority for accountants working in-house. However with research on the evolving role of senior finance professionals from professional services firm, EY, finding that the role of CFO is broadening far beyond its technical foundation into a role that is ever more strategic, the importance of possessing communication and leaderships skills is arguably greater than ever.
There has been a great deal of commentary regarding the responsibility of the finance function in recent years, much of which has focused on the increasingly strategic role of the CFO, and somewhat unsurprisingly, EY’s ‘The DNA of the CFO’ report confirms a continuation of this trend. According to the research 75% of respondents say that they spend 50% or more of their time on strategic aspects of the role, a number which increases to 83% when asked how they expect to spend their time in the future. While there is no doubt that communication and leadership skills are important assets, EY’s report found that as professionals begin to reach the top of the finance function the ability to build effective relationships and demonstrate leadership capabilities become crucial for progression. In fact, when asked what would be needed to reach the next step in their career, over a third of respondents pointed to the need to build stronger internal and external stakeholder relationships as being among the key attributes.
According to Andy Halford, CFO of Vodafone, “the people who are best positioned to help form the strategy of the business are the people who are in the finance area, because it’s one of those functions that is uniquely interfacing with almost every other aspect of the business.” Ultimately this unique position relies on an ability to communicate effectively with professionals outside of their own function, so it is crucial that individuals work on developing the requisite interpersonal skills to ensure they are able to build and maintain these relationships. The report also highlights the importance of being able to manage a number of ‘roles’. While the CFO role is certainly now more embedded in the development and enablement of corporate strategy the financial crisis has forced CFOs to increase their focus on the fundamentals of finance as well. Senior finance professionals need to ensure they are able to effectively manage the two aspects of their role, drawing upon both their technical knowledge and leadership qualities when required. As the role of the finance function evolves and senior finance positions become increasingly strategic, professionals need to ensure that they focus on developing their interpersonal skills alongside their technical knowledge. In increasingly uncertain times when budgets are under growing scrutiny there is little doubt that finance professionals will be increasingly called upon to inform the overall business strategy. Those with industry leading knowledge and outstanding personal skills will likely find themselves in high demand.
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