Controllers and CFOs are part of an evolving financial landscape. While these positions require a high degree of technical skills, they also require a unique set of soft skills to adapt to changing demands. This may be particularly important for those looking to advance in their careers, eyeing the coveted C-suite positions. But it may also help existing controllers learn to adapt to the changing demands of their profession.
Here are the top skills for controllers and CFOs in 2023.
First, controllers and CFOs indeed continue to need a set of technical skills. These can include the following:
Senior-level professionals won’t necessarily handle the day-to-day finances or prepare regular reports. However, CFOs and controllers need to have the expertise to see the big picture. While junior-level staff might be skilled at organizing and presenting financial data, controllers and CFOs must see the implications of that data and how it aligns (or conflicts) with the company mission.
Financial professionals have to stay on top of a rapidly shifting array of regulatory standards. For instance, controllers and CFOs must understand account standards such as GAAP and IFRS and may be called upon to maintain these standards across departments.
Depending on the industry, CFOs and controllers may also need to look at the intersection of financial reporting standards and other regulatory issues, including ESG criteria.
Controllers and CFOs are often called upon to take a deep dive into the company’s financial history or to make accurate financial projections. They may have teams at their disposal to assist with these processes, but these senior positions must be adept at spotting errors and making judgments based on existing data.
Many companies rely on enterprise-level planning and management software. Controllers and CFOs should have a thorough understanding of how these platforms work and how different software systems integrate with one another. With the growing use of AI, financial leaders may also need to know how to use these advanced tools to analyze past data to provide trustworthy financial projections and reports.
In addition to these technical skills, today’s controllers and CFOs also need soft skills that help them manage teams, guide senior leaders, and navigate the changing financial landscape.
Increasingly, senior managers rely on CFOs and controllers to provide actionable advice on business decisions. Financial workers may be called upon to advise a board of directors, deliver presentations, or assemble information to deliver to company stakeholders. The best controllers and CFOs will have a solid combination of written, verbal, and even design skills for making effective presentations.
Leadership and Organization
A CFO is just that: a “chief” financial officer which typically involves leading entire teams and departments. This role, therefore, requires strong leadership skills and the organization needed to manage projects, set realistic deadlines, and keep everyone engaged and on the same page.
While CFOs and controllers most immediately oversee financial departments, many companies are pursuing stronger collaboration between professions like CFOs, CISOs, and marketing teams. Financial professionals can thrive by learning the concerns and areas of focus of other sectors of their company, as well as finding points where department goals align with one another and the broader corporate vision.
Recent years have shown that the economy has been anything but business as usual. Controllers, CFOs, and other business leaders have had to learn the value of adaptability and resilience in the face of economic volatility, a remote/hybrid work environment, and even stakeholder unrest as the threat of a recession looms large.
The ability to pivot and create new strategies in the face of unpredictable challenges can keep the controller — and the company — thriving.
Controllers and CFOs can play a role in keeping their organization moving forward. This takes strategic thinking. Financial leaders can take charge by setting clear goals for their company or department and creating clear, attainable ways to reach those goals within a particular time frame.
The very best controllers and CFOs can also identify the tools, technology, and talent needed to accomplish these goals, which is another reason for collaboration with other departments, such as human resources.
Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else is feeling. This skill isn’t just beneficial when managing teams — it’s also essential in an increasingly diverse workplace. Controllers and CFOs should have the emotional intelligence to understand and respect their colleagues, as well as promote a stronger, more inclusive environment for everyone.
Improve Your Own Engagement
Whether you currently occupy one of these roles or you’re working your way there, these skills can make you more competitive in today’s job market. But more importantly, these skills can make you a more effective leader within your organization and can improve your own satisfaction as well.