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

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: recruiting and retaining top talent (47%), pursuing growth opportunities (42%) and maintaining a competitive edge (42%). In contrast, productivity, or doing more with less, motivating the workforce and pursuing growth opportunities, are the top challenges facing leaders in poor economic times, representing 49%, 44% and 33% of responses, respectively.

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.”