‘Thinking: How effective is the process of developing interpersonal skills for financial managers?’

Management accounting is changing. The main factors behind this are globalisation and advances in technology, which are making the business environment increasingly dynamic and complex.

To meet the challenges that await them, therefore, management accountants need to become market-orientated financial analysts and strategic advisers.

Software developments have led management accountants to focus less on inputs and more on interpreting financial data and getting involved in strategic planning.

The demand is for them to “add value” through activities such as customer profitability analysis and process improvement. There has been a long-standing debate about the changing personal development needs of management accountants.

Central to it is the breadth of skills required and the balance needed between technical knowledge and personal qualities. The emerging view is that management accountants will not only be required to “know that”; they will also be required to “know how”.

A key factor will be to develop the interpersonal skills required to put knowledge into practice. Skills such as communication, teamwork, time management and problem-solving will be needed to enable technical accounting to be exercised in the relevant context.

Our research, which involved management accounting professionals and their employers, sought to establish not only the importance of a range of interpersonal skills, but also the priorities for developing them. Communication skills have emerged as a key factor.

Our study has highlighted an important relationship between these and the development of skills such as teamwork and leadership. We have also found that employers are worried that key skills are not being exhibited, despite all the efforts to develop them.

Of particular concern is a lack of communication skills. We need to improve our understanding of the barriers to the development of these crucial skills.

Traditional approaches to honing such skills have been shown not to work because of these barriers. They must therefore be dismantled. When individuals choose to pursue a career in management accounting they must be made aware of the range of interpersonal skills required of the modern financial management professional.

These should become a key part of all recruitment literature and job specifications. Relevant performance metrics should also be developed to measure the required skills during the selection process.

James Joyce is a professor of management accounting education, and Trevor Hassall is professor of accounting education at Sheffield Hallam University.

Illustration: Karolin Schnoor/Dutch Uncle

22/08/2013

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