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Special report - Soft skills that FDs need

Business expects finance directors to not only be able to interpret the past but also be able to see into the future, at least with reference to business performance. This level of skill is innate in most ICAEW members; our weakness might lie in the lack of enough skills to present and deliver a message with confidence.

These ‘soft skills’ – influencing, speaking in public, addressing conflict, coping with office politics, etc – are part of our lives, but many members shy away from them. The most popular topics that the Finance and Management Faculty hosts tend to be related to non-technical skill development.

Andrew Kakabadse, professor of international management development at Cranfield University School of Management agrees: ‘At the executive board level, directorial capabilities such as leadership far supersede the functional skills such as finance. If you are a board-level director, you need vision, mission alignment and engagement’.

We have come a long way since the dark days sitting with dusty paper files in backrooms acting as ‘bean counters’. Finance Forte – The Future of Finance Leadership, a study by EY concluded: ‘The CFO is now arguably the most influential role in the organisation, particularly at a time when economic uncertainty continues to cause unpredictable demand, capital availability and cash flows’.

We can move from good to great by focusing on these skills. The EY report identified nine steps that finance directors might care to focus on to become outstanding: gain a breadth of finance experience; develop commercial insight; seek out merger and acquisition experience; acquire international exposure, especially in emerging markets; gain experience of financial transformation initiatives; obtain a balance of traditional and non- traditional skills; develop leadership and team-building; gain exposure to the market and stakeholders; and build effective relationships with the board.

You have already taken the great step forward by belonging to the Finance and Management Faculty; we can build on some of this by avoiding over-specialisation and ensuring that we keep up with our CPD and soft skills. The faculty and broader ICAEW both offer training and courses to assist you with your career development – you can find these at icaew.com/fmfevents and icaew.com/academy.

We hope that you enjoy reading this report – please drop Robert.russell@icaew.com a line if you have any thoughts or suggestions about the faculty.

Find out more

This report is usually only available to Business and Management Faculty members and Faculties Online subscribers, but for a limited time, it has been opened to all.

Comments and suggestions

Robert Russell, Technical Manager, Finance and Management Faculty