Accountants Rank Soft Skills as More Important for Leaders Than Technical Skills

Doing More With Less, Motivating the Workforce and Pursuing Growth Opportunities Rated Top Priorities for Leaders in Difficult Economic Times

via PRNewswire

Accountants have strong opinions about what constitutes leadership in this economy, according to a new survey by Ajilon Finance, a leading specialty finance and accounting staffing firm, and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). The survey, which polled over 700 accountants as part of IMA's Inside Talk Webinar Series, found that leadership priorities change depending on whether the economy is good or bad but that certain workforce activities and initiatives remain non-discretionary investments at companies, such as training and development and workforce flexibility.

Among key findings, the survey found that leadership priorities change depending on the performance of the overall economy.

In good economic times, accountants say the top three most challenging decisions for leaders to make are:

  1. recruiting and retaining top talent (47%),
  2. pursuing growth opportunities (42%) and
  3. maintaining a competitive edge (42%).

In contrast, the top challenges facing leaders in poor economic times are:

  1. productivity, or doing more with less (49%),
  2. motivating the workforce (44%) and
  3. pursuing growth opportunities (33%),

Other key survey findings include:

Soft Skills Beat Hard Skills: According to the survey, one-third (33%) of accountants feel an ability to inspire and motivate is the most important quality of leadership in the 21st century followed by communications skills (15%) and people management skills (13%), all soft skills. In contrast, accountants said that hard skills such as global knowledge/expertise, financial acumen and keen decision-making were more rewarded leadership qualities at their organizations.

Training still a non-discretionary expense: Despite the downturn, workforce training remains an important investment for many companies with 31% of survey respondents saying training is a non-discretionary expense at their companies. Other non-discretionary expenses include: workforce flexibility (27%), succession planning (26%), leadership development (25%) and enhancing the company's brand (25%).

Accountants Say They Need Time, More Than Anything Else: When asked what they need most to be effective leaders, most accountants (29%) said more time. Only 14% of respondents said more money and 13% said more influence over others.

"Although leadership priorities change depending on the state of the economy, taking leadership in your career and your life is important no matter what your role," said David Adams, vice president of training and development at Ajilon Finance. "Whether it involves finding ways to cut costs in your own department, using your access to marketplace research to provide support for new business or just being a cheerleader in your office, there are numerous 'soft skills' finance professionals can employ to demonstrate leadership in their jobs today. And, while soft skills are very important, it doesn't mean a leader should be soft. The trick is finding the right balance in motivating your staff to perform at the highest levels both individually and as a team."

6 Responses to “Accountants Rank Soft Skills as More Important for Leaders Than Technical Skills”

  1. Bob Malloney

    I have provided soft skills training for ‘big 4’ accountants for over 20 years. During that time I have noticed two problems in soft skills development. The first is that many accountants, as mentioned above, simply do not have the time to take one or two days out of their schedule to develop their soft skills. The pressure for chargable hours is often stronger than the desire to enhance personal effectiveness. The second is that traditional training courses have to be arranged in advance and attended on specified dates. This can easily conflict with servicing client demands. When a conflict arises, the training plays second fiddle to the client. Hence high ‘no-show’ rates on courses. As a solution I have developed soft skills streaming videos that are available as a ‘just-in-time’ resource, 24 hours a day, and provide essential coaching in Time Management, Communication Skills, Negotiating and Relationship Selling. The videos are not intended to replace traitional face-to-face training, but do provide a valuable resource for those unable to spare the time for courses or needing just-in-time help.

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  3. Jeff Biesecker

    These “soft skills” and there lack of emphasis may be part of the problem that is occurring in America today. Could some of the “holes” that have appeared is because people making that final decisions did not have enough technical skills. I believe there is too much emphasis on soft skills and not enough on skills. That said, get the move the undergraduate degress to Bach. of Arts instead of a Bach. of Science. “Soft” and “Hard” skills should reflect a more equal view and not one biased towards “social skills”. The accounting professional is a big part of the one-trillion and counting national debt.

  4. Noreen Hynes

    I am an Irish Chartered Accountant in the process of launching a new consultancy business called Corporate Consulting,, the web site is not live yet but will be shortly.

    In the process of some research I carried out for this business I noticed that accountants were not very involved in business coaching and this is probably because they don’t have the softer skills necessary. It is an area I am keen to get involved in as I have 30 years experience at FC and CEO level in both large private and public companies. I agree with Maree Harris and Brian Swanson, it is a real pity that communication skills are not part of the training of accountants. It would be most helpful to accountants right throughout their careers. I would also like to see a course in business coaching as part of the CPD training program. There are many accountants who want to change career especially coming near retirement and use their vast skills and experience to help businesses become even more successful. Who better to do this than accountants who have worked at senior level in the profession and in Industry.

  5. Maree Harris

    I found this study very useful and informative. I am doing quite a bit of work with accountants here in Australia around the development of soft skills. I am a specialist in the development of soft skills and have been invited to give talks to groups of accountants. These have been well attended. I have been also working with accountancy firms helping them to develop people management systems in their organisations that focus on soft skills. It is very satisfying to see some research coming out affirming what I am doing and what these accountancy firms are doing. Certainly here in Australia, it would seem that accountants may well be leading the way in this area in terms of professional service firms. I have developed 8 essential soft skills for leadership and this is what we are working on. More can be found about these on my website, but I would value the opportunity to talk more with anyone in the States who is working in this area. I would really like to share some ideas.

  6. Brian Swanson

    This study is very interesting. What has always struck me about accounting programs in Universities is that they focus on teaching the mehanical aspects of auditing or tax analysis. However, there seems to be an almost complete lack of leadership labratory classes (military term) that teaches motivation stratgies to help these same professionals understand how to interact and engage staff.

    What I have seen happen at Big 4 firms is those who have this natural ability tend to rise to the top while the technical experts seem to stay in the same position for much longer periods of time.