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ARE YOU A LEADER?

By STUART M. BRUMFIELD, CMA, CPA, CGMA
February 1, 2017
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Hand writing Follow Me with white chalk on blackboard.

Determine your management readiness through a skills self-assessment and an understanding of your professional landscape.

 

You’re doing well as a staff or senior accountant with no direct reports, and you’ve mastered the skills these positions require. Still, you desire a more challenging role. Is taking the next step into a managerial position a good move for you?

 

* Why should you consider management?

 

* Is a management role right for you?

 

* Does the specific position suit your personality and skill set?

 

The first question is the most important. Management includes more responsibility, the potential for thornier challenges and longer hours, and frontline accountability for any problems, such as staffing shortages or demanding clients. So why bother?

 

MOVING UP GRADUALLY

 

Rising to management offers the most opportunities for higher pay. But simply taking the position that offers the most money is unwise. Taking a low to midlevel management position isn’t only a position with higher pay—it’s also an entry-level leadership position. This means more responsibility and accountability for delivering results, but you also have the opportunity to make a more significant impact on the company.

 

As a manager, you no longer simply handle the work that’s within your own sandbox. You are expected to suggest improvements to policies and procedures. You evaluate staff, which will impact their compensation. Your decisions affect multiple people. And you may be asked to work on special projects that extend beyond the normal scope of your job description.

 

BALANCING SKILLS

 

Accounting is often seen as a discipline that involves purely technical skills. But quality management in accounting includes a mix of soft and technical skills. A wise supervisor once told me that management is more an art than a science. For example, a deep dive into the details can be a costly mistake in one situation but an essential move in another. It may be wise to do a favor for one fellow manager but to hold firm when dealing with another on the same issue. Tough decisions have to be made quickly, especially during peak season.

 

The need for soft skills doesn’t diminish the importance of solid technical skills and knowledge. You may have to use principles of internal control to decide who does what or research Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to determine the treatment for unusual transactions. If you feel you’re ready for a position that will require a higher level of soft and technical skills, then perhaps a management position is right for you.

 

ASSESSING YOUR OPTIONS

 

Several personality tests and assessment tools are available to help with this decision, including the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) CareerDriver® (http://bit.ly/2kpIchb) and the Leadership Academy (http://bit.ly/2j9zM0t). As an IMA member, you have access to:

 

Webinars, offered monthly, which cover a variety of topics including coaching, team building, conflict resolution, and problem solving.

 

Leadership Recognition Program, which offers digital badges for leadership education and accomplishments.

 

Leadership opportunities that match your talents to regional and global volunteer leadership opportunities, such as serving as a council officer or on a global advisory committee.

 

Mentor identification program, which connects members on LinkUp IMA.

 

Leadership news in Strategic Finance, IMA’s monthly magazine.

 

The February 2016 issue of Strategic Finance offers an excellent leadership readiness assessment tool included in the article “Building Effective Leaders.” The assessment is titled “Measuring Your Readiness.”

 

Your manager may also be a good source of information. You can assess your performance reviews to see where you consistently score well and which areas are noted as weaknesses.

 

A key indicator, though, is how you felt when reading about the required skills. If you feel uncertain whether management is right for you, a good place to test the waters is as a volunteer with a nonprofit organization.

 

I’m in my second term on the board of IMA’s Richmond Chapter. I have supervised several employees as the manager of corporate accounting at a local real-estate firm for more than eight years. Involvement with our local IMA chapter has given me the opportunity to expand my role beyond what’s typically asked of me at work and sometimes beyond my comfort zone.

 

At work, I have never written an article, recruited speakers, or led a meeting, but I have done all these through my involvement with IMA. I have watched other people I have great respect for in leadership roles, and I have been thrown into the fire a few times myself. I’ve developed a greater understanding of my strongest skills and the skills that need improvement.

 

FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

 

Once you feel ready for the leadership challenge, how do you tell if a specific position is right for you? Before accepting the position, it would be wise to go to lunch with one or two people who know more about the position (other than the person recruiting you). They may give you some inside information, positive or negative, that the person recruiting you didn’t mention or may not have been aware of.

 

If you apply for a position outside your organization, do your homework. First, check the internet. Red flags to watch out for include a company’s financial struggles, recent layoffs, multiple layoffs in the last few years, or the advertisement of the same position multiple times over the last one or two years. Next, try to find someone in your network with some first-hand knowledge of the company. Networking through organizations like IMA pays special dividends here.

 

If you’ve taken the steps to ensure that you’re a good fit for your next position, you’re well on the way toward a successful transition. As you’ve seen, IMA is an excellent resource to help you through the vetting process. It will always be a good resource for you as you assume management responsibility and continue your leadership journey.

 

IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

 

The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/tools-and-resources/leadership-academy.

 

Stuart M. Brumfield, CMA, CPA, CGMA, is a senior staff accountant at Thalhimer and vice president of administration for IMA’s Richmond Chapter.  
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