Five Key Leadership Skills for Finance Professionals

Jun 10, 2014

Jeff Glenzer CTP, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, AFP

As their role continues to evolve, there are five critical areas where finance professionals should focus in order to succeed and help their organizations grow in today’s hyper-speed, turbulent marketplace. Here’s what you need to do to provide insight that will lead your company to profitable growth and help you stand out on your finance team.

1. Partner with other business units of your organization. Develop alliances beyond traditional operational relationships within your own company. This will help you create keener awareness of the strategic guidance that finance provides while expanding a network for the information you need to gather. Become the hub for gathering and distributing data that informs strategic business decisions.

True business partnering means greater integration between finance and other business units, which will ultimately make finance a more valuable asset within the organization. The more relationships you build, the more colleagues will turn to you as a trusted advisor.

2. Develop a more holistic view of risk—beyond simply historical risk—and how it affects decisions. There’s an elevated level of awareness of the risk in everything we do, and today’s risk analysis should go far beyond any single factor. Focusing simply on historical risk will put you at a great disadvantage if you’re not also considering critical factors such as:

  • Reputational risk—Protecting your reputation today is as important as ever. Being prepared for crises ranging from data breaches to natural disasters is key to protecting your bottom line.

  • Regulatory risk—The regulatory landscape is complex and always changing with requirements that can vary widely by region.

  • Customer and demand risk—Our research is showing increasing concern over customer risks and how some companies are finding creative ways to mitigate them.

  • Global market/exposure risk—Today, every business is a global business. As the economy becomes even more global, so do the associated risks. As recent events in Ukraine and Thailand have shown, companies can feel the impact from treasury to the supply chain.

3. Recruit top finance talent. Your most important investment is in people. Out of the nine types of risks assessed in a recent study by the Hackett Group on issues ranging from demand-side volatility to geopolitical risk, “lack of access to critical skills” ranked No. 4. Identifying, attracting and retaining skilled finance professionals remains a huge challenge.

A large piece of the puzzle is companies’ concerns over cost constraints not squaring with their need to make additional, quality hires. But increased productivity doesn’t happen by wishing for it. You have to make the investments in the right people (and tools) to get better results. More and more, companies are showing greater concern toward the paucity of skilled finance professionals—and finding certified professionals is a great start.

4. Articulate the findings. There is no substitute for being able to tell a great story. You may have all the data you need, but can you articulate what it means clearly, concisely and compellingly? Can you tailor your message to different audiences—CEO, board of directors or business unit leaders?

This goes beyond simply developing communications skills. You need to gather all your data—financial and non-financial—and tell a story that will resonate with each stakeholder. A presentation on an investment recommendation that only focuses on net-present value and internal rates of return isn’t going to gain much traction among senior management and other decision-makers without tying it to the larger picture. The numbers can only say so much. Being a good storyteller is part of the continuum of success.

5. Be strategic about using big data. Find the data that really matters and be able to use it. You’re not necessarily going to be able to improve your model with more data inputs. More important, you need to be able to discern the most critical information to find the real drivers of your business. Doing so will lead you to the data-driven insights and guidance that your leadership needs.

Being aware of—and acting on—these five critical areas will strengthen your brand as a finance professional, help your company achieve its short- and long-term growth goals and enable you to hone your craft.

Are there other skills that you think finance professionals should have? I want to hear more from you. Please share your insights below.