Soft skills aren’t something that you’ll learn in school, so be intentional about gaining and continuing to hone them over time. In my experience, the most important attributes for professionals to cultivate are patience, time management, humility, kindness, and emotional intelligence. There will be barriers and disappointments along your career journey, but how you respond to each situation is key to building your reputation and shaping how others think of you. You’ll make mistakes, and you should take responsibility for them and learn from them. Always be honest, ask for help when you need it, and work to gain trust with peers, managers, and clients or members.
Growth over Almost Two Decades at IMA
My first job was working in Alexander’s Department Store in the World Trade Center in New York City as a cashier manager. I learned that customers are always right—and that I didn’t want to work in retail. That’s when I redirected my ambitions toward working outside of retail and ultimately the not-for-profit space.
Keep in mind that your first role isn’t going to be your forever role, so don’t get too disappointed when the experience doesn’t go the way you expected or hoped.
I initially joined IMA as the executive administrator working with the organization’s CEO and the Chair, Chair Elect, and Chair Emeritus of the Board of Directors. In that role, I supported the executive team as liaison to the global board of 53 voting members and approximately 12 active former chairs. The organization was experiencing difficulties at that time, specifically in creating a positive culture, so staff morale was very low, and the Board lost confidence in the CEO. Fortunately, in my early years with IMA, the Global Board made a strategic decision to change staff leadership, which was a turning point in IMA history that brought the organization back to being a great place to work, serving as a leader for management accounting and finance professionals, and growing globally. I was lucky to be part of this amazing transition. I took every opportunity to learn from others and to share my previous experiences with colleagues and members.
I always felt my role was unique and provided me with opportunities to work with many successful executives who cared deeply about the organization and the profession. I mean, where else do you get to work with so many dedicated, experienced professionals and observe so much knowledge being shared at no cost or personal gain? I remember thinking, “Why do these people give so much of their time to this organization?” and then I quickly realized it was all about their passion for helping IMA members succeed. The organization had helped to make them successful, and they made friendships along the way while serving on committees, attending chapter or council meetings, and conferences. They wanted to pay it forward.
After some time, I was offered a senior role supporting all IMA governance matters, including volunteer committees, staff liaisons to those committees, chapter and council boards, and the Global Board of Directors. In this role, I was asked to take on a bit more than I thought I was capable of handling, but with the help of a few great mentors and continued focus on my career development, I was privileged to be able to accept this new challenge.
There are a few experiences at IMA that I’m very proud of. One is creating a solid and objective nominating review and selection process for the Global Board of Directors and committees. Every year, we improve the process and, in comparison with other organizations, IMA is leaps and bounds ahead. In addition, when we were opening offices outside the United States, it became clear that changing our chapter model was needed as far as the compensation and recognition programs. Over the past few years, these programs were reimagined to meet the needs of U.S. and global chapter operations. This was a two-year project that has proven to be very successful and was positively received by our chapter leaders since the changes were implemented.
Although my position involves a great deal of people management that many aren’t always eager or willing to deal with, I find the people are the most rewarding part of this role. I’m inspired by our volunteers every single day!
Advice for Advancing Professionally
Being a woman in my experience has been a benefit to my success because I had so many life experiences and challenges as a young mother that I quickly learned I could do anything I put my mind to regardless of the challenging circumstances in front of me. The following are some of the top career lessons I’ve learned, which apply to everyone, not just women.
- Don’t take feedback or managers’ decisions personally; it isn’t all about you.
- Trusting others and earning trust are critical.
- Admit when you don’t understand something and ask for help. It’s okay to be vulnerable in the workplace.
- Learning is forever, and you should always challenge yourself to explore professional-development opportunities, even those that are outside of your comfort zone.
- Observing meetings, listening carefully with the intent to learn, reading articles, finding mentors, and asking questions are organic ways to build confidence and realize that you can do anything you dedicate yourself to achieving.
Communication is the most pivotal of all soft skills, as it has the greatest impact on how you’re viewed by colleagues, managers, and clients or members. Always be honest, courageous, respectful, and thoughtful. If communication isn’t transparent and delivered directly and clearly to everyone, it’s a missed opportunity to resolve a misunderstanding, correct a mistake, or strengthen a professional relationship. In fact, it may become a barrier to earning trust and create a bad culture. Prepare for discussions in advance. Get the facts straight before you jump to conclusions. Know that there are always two sides to every story.
With volunteers, I’ve learned that they all want to give back and make a difference, so I assume that their intentions are always coming from a good place. Therefore, if there’s a need to provide pushback to a volunteer, it’s important to remember that they’re trying to feel engaged in helping the organization and the profession, so feedback should be provided on a positive note. Whether you’re meeting with a volunteer, client, peer, direct report, or supervisor, put yourself on the side of the receiver when you prepare for discussions—always speak to others in a manner that you’d like to be spoken to.