You’ve been advancing along your payroll career path for several years and believe it’s time to make the leap to payroll management — or you’ll be ready soon. It’s a big step. It means you’re confident you have the skills and experience to handle higher-level accounting functions for the business. And you feel ready to not only supervise the payroll team, but also take the lead on making sure they stay current with the latest payroll best practices, technology and compliance requirements.
When companies are staffing payroll management roles, they typically look for candidates who have worked in payroll for at least five years. Also, a relevant bachelor’s degree is often required, but many employers will consider equivalent work experience. Industry credentials such as the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) designation aren’t always must-haves, but many employers see them as a plus.
You’ll need to do more than meet the minimum requirements for payroll management jobs, though, as you’ll likely face some stiff competition. The Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals lists payroll manager as an in-demand job, and you can expect companies to be selective when evaluating candidates for this critical position.
So, how can you stand out from the crowd? Here are six skills that many employers look for when hiring leaders for their payroll functions:
1. Payroll systems experience
Companies expect their senior payroll professionals to know their way around common payroll platforms — and there are many. ADP Workforce Now, Gusto, Kronos, Paycom, Sage and Workday are just some examples of solutions you might encounter in the payroll profession today, depending on the size of your organization.
Also, know that many firms will be looking to payroll managers to help them make the most of advanced features in their payroll solutions — like customizing portals, setting up access and permissions, changing workflow events, and creating custom templates.
2. Other technical expertise
Developing your hard skills is always a good career move, no matter your job or industry. For payroll management professionals, this means earning hands-on experience with general accounting software and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, such as SAP, NetSuite and Oracle; proficiency with Microsoft Office and Google Drive is also often expected.
To really get ahead in your field, stay current on the latest in payroll technology, including process automation and the rise of artificial intelligence.
Not sure where to start with expanding your technical expertise? Consider registering for vendor-sponsored courses or working through online tutorials. Ask your supervisor for cross-training, or for permission to job shadow a senior payroll professional. You’ll learn a lot, and by asking for professional development and on-the-job training, you’ll show senior managers your initiative and desire to learn.
3. Business acumen
You need to develop a certain level of payroll expertise to advance in the profession, of course, but try to take time to become a generalist as well as a specialist.
What does this mean? Thanks to ERP systems and a trend toward cross-departmental collaboration, the line between payroll and other functions has been blurring. So, learn what you can about human resources, accounting and data analysis — and even internal audit.
The more you understand how a complex business operates, the better prepared you’ll be to assume a payroll management position.
4. Compliance knowledge
Payroll systems providers continually update their solutions to reflect legislative changes to taxes, medical benefits and other matters that fall under payroll’s purview. However, humans — specifically, payroll managers and supervisors — are ultimately responsible for making sure that a company remains compliant with myriad and ever-changing local, state and federal requirements.
To stay current, subscribe to payroll newsletters and compliance-related blogs — and make it part of your regular work schedule to read them. Webinars sponsored by professional organizations are also an excellent source of information about the latest compliance trends.
5. Leadership qualities
Hiring managers will typically look for supervisory experience when staffing a payroll management role. But how do you earn that experience when you haven’t yet worked in a management role?
One way to develop management skills is by requesting assignments that put you in charge of a project or team. Also, look for leadership opportunities outside of your workplace. Professional associations are excellent training grounds for example, and they offer networking opportunities, too.
Leadership development courses offered online are another option. And turn to a trusted mentor for other ideas on how to earn relevant management experience.
6. Excellent soft skills
Effective payroll managers know how to deal with a range of people — their team, other directors, company employees, board members, vendors and government functionaries. Polished written and verbal communication, customer service and conflict resolution skills are all essential for managing people and their expectations.
Payroll managers also need to possess self-initiative, outstanding time management skills and similar qualities to handle their heavy workload and lead their team effectively.
Compensation for payroll management jobs
Building your skill set for a payroll manager position takes time and hard work, but it can be well worth it. In addition to taking on more responsibilities and challenging tasks, you can earn a higher salary when you reach the payroll management level.
According to the 2021 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals, payroll managers can expect to see a midpoint salary (or median national salary) of $75,500. And there is room to grow from there: The guide notes that the most skilled and experienced payroll managers can earn a starting salary of $130,250.
Keep in mind that starting compensation for payroll management positions can vary by industry and location. Use Robert Half’s Salary Calculator to find out what payroll manager salaries employers in your area are offering.
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