The technical aspects of accounting are well-known. So are the practical steps future accountants should take to learn those skills and earn the rewards for doing so. Earn a bachelor’s degree, then an MS in Accounting. Pass the CPA exam and/or pick a specialty like managerial accounting or internal auditing.  None of it is easy, but this path propels you into a stable, growing profession.

The rewards? Accountants are always in demand. For example, Massachusetts expects to see an 8.5% increase in accountants by 2026, according to federal government projections. Salaries are strong too. Accountants earned a mean annual salary of $80,280 in the Bay State in May 2017, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 25% made more than $93,600.

Accounting provides a solid career for those with technical skills and a commitment to education. However, the most ambitious accountants also want to consider the importance of developing accounting soft skills.

Leadership and Accounting Soft Skills

When a person talks about leadership, what do they mean? In most cases, it’s a combination of personality and soft skills. This combination of skills turns  managers into leaders people want to follow. If these skills don’t come naturally to you, it’s worth the effort to learn because companies need accountants who can lead. The International Federation of Accountants writes that leadership skills are important for accountants “particularly as they have become key to helping their organizations navigate an increasingly complex business world. “

Accounting leaders work with executives on long-range financial planning. They adapt to change, embrace continuous improvement, generate fresh ideas and motivate other accounting team members. The stereotype of accountants sitting at a desk all day, facing a spreadsheet, oblivious to the world around them, is a thing of the past.  Accounting leaders now take an active role in business strategy. But leadership requires accounting soft skills. And most of those skills revolve around communication.

Communication: An Important Accounting Soft Skill

From Bill Gates to Bill Belichick, every leader needs to communicate well. Leaders need to clearly explain company goals and the plan to achieve them. They need to make presentations that people with no accounting skills can understand.  That’s why Merrimack College makes managerial communication a part of the curriculum in the MS in Accounting program. In this course, students learn effective ways to tailor their communication to a specific audience to achieve the greatest impact. They also learn to think and write strategically.

Customer Service Mentality

Accountants and customer service? That may seem like two very disconnected topics. But consider the following. In accounting firms, accounting managers and leaders have a role in retaining – in other words, keeping current clients happy.  They also work at recruiting new clients.  Leaders of accounting departments in large companies work with people from across the organization. That means learning to deal with many different, and sometimes challenging, personalities.

Both settings require a customer service mentality – always thinking of the needs of the internal or external client and taking steps to provide what they want when they want it.

Other Areas

The following accounting soft skills enhance the baseline skills of analyzing data, working with technology, and the practical application of accounting techniques. They are key to developing an accountant into a leader.

  • Critical thinking. This can cover many things, but for accountants it typically involves looking at numbers, spotting trends and developing a coherent strategy based on what they find.
  • Decision-making. The best accountants know how to use the results of the accounting analysis to make a sound decision.
  • Independent. Accountants should work well both on teams and independently without the need for supervision and learn to take initiative.
  • Proper mentality. Accountants who want to lead need a strong mental toughness to handle difficult and complex situations.

Accounting is a solid career choice that attracts people who are first and foremost good with numbers. But by focusing on developing accounting soft skills and putting them into practice, professional accountants stand a better chance at reaching the upper ranks of the profession.