Leadership Skills for CPAs

By: Chris Perrotta, CPA

I believe that CPAs are naturally viewed as leaders within the community. People tend to hold CPAs in a higher regard; therefore, I feel the designation alone signifies leadership; hence the importance for improving leadership skills. Anyone looking for a “career” as a CPA (by career I mean one on the partner track) will at some point take on a leadership role. The leadership role entails managing a book of business – which includes staff both professional and administrative as well as clients and their business.

A CPA in public practice has an ultimate goal: to become the trusted advisor to each and every one of their clients. A trusted advisor is someone that is relied upon for all kinds of advice, whether it be financial, nonfinancial, even a sounding board for clients to bounce ideas off.

I believe the first step in improving leadership skills is passing the CPA exam. This is a huge commitment which in itself expresses ones commitment to the profession. The second step would be in everyday practice for a public accounting firm.  We all are assigned a variety of clients and task; taking ownership (assuming a leadership type role) of the clients and tasks we are assigned is very important in development of leadership skills. It is the individuals that can successfully accomplish this concept of taking ownership who will strive.

Two other important aspects of everyday work in a public accounting firm include delegating work and developing the younger staff. Delegating work helps employees work together as a team to complete a project, which is beneficial because you are showing your trust in your team while alleviating your workload. Developing younger staff allows them to grow within the profession while introducing them to everyday tasks of an experienced CPA.

A next step is to become goal oriented. Setting long and short term goals is very important in the development of a leader. Goals need to be revisited on at least a weekly basis to keep the end in mind. This weekly reminder would include long term goals.

Another way for ambitious CPAs to improve leadership skills are to read books about leadership. There are a number of great books on professionalism and becoming a leader.  My favorite two are True Professionalism by David Maister and The Next Level by Scott Eblin. True Professionalism provides advice to professionals of all industries. The Next Level discusses why professionals fail when they reach the next level and offers solutions to prevent that.

Lastly, it is important to look for mentoring opportunities. As mentioned earlier, all CPAs on the partner track will take a leadership role. This means that the partners in your firm are living the leadership roles and usually have pretty good examples and advice to give.  I like to work with all the partners in my group to get a variety of styles and ideas.

Please contact Chris Perrotta, CPA if you have any questions.