A portfolio of “soft skills” can make you a more balanced, successful accountant. Soft skills are talents that enable people to effectively communicate, appreciate, and work with people.
If you’ve been working for a few years in the accounting industry, you’ve probably noticed that successful people at the office know more than technical accounting skills. They know the skills accountants need to get along, succeed, and move up.
They also know how to lead a meeting, put clients at ease, persuade people, and make themselves heard and ultimately appreciated. They write and send purposeful emails or memos (the kind that people actually read), and deliver strong presentations.
Chances are, you likely admire these people who invested a lot of time to develop their soft skills. Accounting soft skills like communication or critical thinking can take average and competent accountants and transform them into stellar performers. Developing these skills takes time, which is why they’re often the focus of graduate programs and later personal-development workshops.
Here’s an overview of soft skills for accountants:
1. Writing and Oral Communications: English class may not have been your favorite, nevertheless writing skills that convey intelligence are mandatory for success in today’s communication-intensive workplace. The effectiveness of words is not measured by volume; in fact, just like with so many other things, less is more. This is especially true for busy work colleagues. Emails can be shorter and stronger, and presentations more direct and engaging. When you get to the point in your writing, you’ll find it positively influences your speaking, as well.
2. Critical thinking: This catch-all phrase gets a little muddy when scholars talk about it, but critical thinking skills are essential. Think of it this way: When you look at a spreadsheet, what do you see? Just a series of numbers, or a deeper story inside?
Spotting patterns, trends or coming up with a coherent strategy is critical thinking. Developing a long-term financial plan for a client requires critical thinking. This is a soft skill that you can develop over time, through experience and actively seeking information about how others do what you do. Try to think outside the box when you encounter a problem. Rather than doing the first thing that comes to mind, search for a creative solution. You may have thought of the best solution first, but you’ll never know until you explore.
3. Persuasion: Human resources professionals will commonly say that “building consensus” is a key characteristic for a leader. The fact is that, whether you’re on a management track at work or preparing to sit for your CPA exam for the first time, you need to be adept at persuasion. This isn’t about always being right or being a salesperson. Instead, think of persuasion as an ability to gain trust and build relationships.
Accountants need to persuade their clients throughout their relationships and expertise. Good managers persuade team members to work together to achieve a goal. Persuasion is as much about your own self-confidence as your ability to analyze a situation and come up with a plan.
4. Technology/Computer Skills: Knowing the laws and how to pull insightful data out of a balance sheet are critical to an accountant’s success. However, if you can’t use the software and other tools necessary to do your job – advancing in your career will be tough.
Think about the people in your own office. Chances are good that the employees who are comfortable with technology, who embrace change and are constantly on the look out for better tools appear to be more confident in the workplace. Training, whether at home or through a structured program, can help give you the technical know-how you deserve.
5. Leadership: All of the accounting soft skills come down to this collective term – leadership. This quality is not just about being a good boss or a trusted advocate, it’s about earning respect through effort. Good leaders communicate well; they think about their audience and how their words are interpreted. They are also big-picture strategic and think about the long-term. It’s important to have a balance of “quick wins” while maintaining the patience to wait for rewards down the line.
Leaders are valued by supervisors, coworkers and clients alike. To develop your leadership soft skills, think about taking management courses, getting a mentor or just making it a life priority this year until it’s second nature.
As you look at your career, three, five or even 10 years from now, you’ll quickly comprehend how valuable these soft skills are for your success. By becoming a better communicator, a trusted advisor and a confident colleague, you’re also becoming a well-rounded accountant (and person).
These skills are just as important as the fundamentals learned in your undergraduate program. Take the leap and devote the time to building yourself up.