Financial executives play a much more strategic role in companies today than they did in the past. Many find they need to dive into big data analytics, weigh in on IT investments, and help the business explore and implement new staffing strategies. And those are just some examples of areas outside of accounting and finance where financial leaders now need to provide support and lend their expertise.
“Financial executives’ positions involve playing many roles — part strategic adviser, part data scientist, part collaborator — in addition to their traditional responsibilities,” says Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.
How can financial leaders prepare for their expanding roles? Refining these five skills can help:
1. Technological aptitude
Digital disruption is changing how businesses operate. It's also driving financial leaders to learn how to make the most of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analytics. Many find they must build a working knowledge of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency, too.
As a financial leader, you won't likely be expected to get deep into the weeds with the technical aspects of IT. However, you should have a solid understanding of your company’s technology infrastructure. Following the latest digital trends will help you to gain a stronger technical aptitude that’s useful as you weigh in on decisions about system upgrades and cybersecurity measures.
Forging a strong working relationship with the chief information officer (CIO) and other tech leaders at your firm can also be invaluable.
2. Change management
Most businesses today are in a state of flux, with growing competition and new technology leading to a seemingly endless series of projects meant to drive change. Finance leaders are at the heart of these change initiatives — managing costs, guiding investments and helping to steer decision making.
That strategic role makes change management a crucial skill set for financial leaders. You need a clear view of the challenges and opportunities that arise from each change project. Soft skills help immensely, too. For example, if you have empathy, you can sense when your team members are feeling overwhelmed in the midst of a change project and move swiftly to provide extra support.
Managed business services teams can help accounting and finance teams to navigate major change management initiatives successfully. Learn more about this strategic staffing solution here.
All of these new and overlapping responsibilities make collaboration a must for today’s financial leaders. You need to establish effective and supportive working relationships with the heads of other departments. And you must convey to your staff the importance of working well with other company divisions.
Holding interdepartmental meetings, arranging job shadowing and even organizing social functions between teams are some ideas for promoting collaboration. If you don't think you should be the one arranging these activities, remember that these efforts should start at the highest levels in the organization. They also require your support to be successful. So, your direct involvement, at least to some degree, is very important.
See this infographic to learn which areas of the business many CFOs are more involved in now, compared to three years ago.
Your senior management position at your firm demands that you speak and write well. However, your style may benefit from some fine-tuning. What works with an audience of fellow finance pros may not be as effective when you need to collaborate with other departments, present to the board, or speak with customers or investors.
To improve your communication skills, you’ll need to listen actively to and learn the business language of the other groups you need to interact with inside and outside of the firm. Also, try to package what you want to communicate in a way that also keeps your audience's needs squarely in focus.
In a survey conducted for the Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals, 91 percent of financial leaders said it’s challenging to find skilled professionals today. To assemble their dream teams, many financial leaders now play a more active role in attracting top talent and retaining key performers. They’re pushing their company to give professionals more of what they want, such as a competitive salary, regular bonuses, generous 401(k) matches and professional development programs — all of which require cost-benefit analyses and additional dollars before implementation.
You may find that in your expanding role as a finance leader you must also tackle issues such as shaping corporate culture and meeting compliance requirements related to payroll, family leave and employment protection. (Given those trends, it’s little wonder that so many finance leaders now find themselves working closer than ever with their counterparts in human resources.)
New responsibilities and expectations always come with new challenges. But don't overlook the opportunities: You can diversify your skill set, build stronger bonds with your team members and peers, and raise your profile in the organization. So, make the most of these changing times for financial leaders to take your business acumen to the next level. It could very well put you in an ideal position to ascend to the CEO chair, if you want to make that leap someday.