6 reasons why Professional Accountants (SA) make great leaders

6 reasons why Professional Accountants (SA) make great leaders

By: Karl Smith, Senior Education, Training and Member Support Manager, SAIPA

Accountants have previously been referred to as “bean-counters” and “number-crunchers” but due to significant shifts in both the profession and in business, professionally trained accountants are now bringing significantly greater value to the leadership arena.

Whether it’s balancing the demands of the board with those of staff members or keeping many balls in the air simultaneously, being a leader requires some very specific skills. Professional Accountants (SA) make great leaders as they have the training, technical skills, soft skills, and ability to see the big picture as well as build sustainable business partnerships.

Professional Accountants (SA) are also uniquely qualified to be exceptional leaders due to the combination of the innate attributes that draw talented people to the profession as well as extensive training they receive to earn the Professional Accountant (SA) designation.

This article unpacks six reasons why Professional Accountants (SA) are highly suited to the task of leading others.

Embracing the highest ethical standards
As stakeholders demand more from their leaders than just the bottom line, Professional Accountants (SA) are more ready than ever to embrace the challenge through their membership with the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA). SAIPA is a leader on issues ranging from financial and sustainability reporting to corporate governance. In addition, SAIPA plays an integral part in the international effort to build a better world through accountancy and through its affiliation with the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), the Pan African Federation of Accountants (PAFA), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA).

Keeping their cool under pressure
A leader is someone who responds to a situation calmly and with a well-considered plan. In a crisis, it’s important to take a deep breath and remain as calm as possible moving forward with an actionable plan – especially as the stakes rise or as circumstantial turbulence accelerates. Professional Accountants (SA) are trained to deal with facts. That gives them an inherently more grounded perspective as business leaders, enabling them to govern without getting caught up in the heat of the moment. As a leader, a Professional Accountant (SA) looks to the numbers in conjunction with other business data, to lay out the best path forward and decide how to get the organisation through the crisis.

Ability to step in and step back as needed
One of the key characteristics of successful leaders is the capacity to step back and look at the big picture while also being able dive into the details if it’s necessary to understand the full situation. Leaders without the training and experience of a Professional Accountant (SA) are often good at the former but shudder at the thought of having to delve into the details. Details don’t scare Professional Accountants (SA); it’s what they have done for days, evenings and weekends – particularly while earning their qualification. Professional Accountants (SA) possess the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to see both the forest AND the trees. Their training and experience also enable them to know when to move back and forth between the two levels.

Demonstrating professional curiosity
Professional Accountants (SA) are trained to be naturally curious – to look for the reason why. Why don’t those numbers make sense? Why are costs of labour up but unit production down? Why are certain entries excluded from the income statement accounts for the month? Why doesn’t the balance sheet balance?  It’s this very trait that compels them to ask questions and listen to the answers; it’s what pushes them to continually seek out additional knowledge. Some Professional Accountants (SA) gain this quality intuitively, while others learn it through the education process. Either way, this natural curiosity is beneficial at the leadership level, both in terms of gathering knowledge as well as in building relationships.

They are not afraid of the numbers
Professional Accountants (SA) don’t just work with numbers – they understand what facts and figures mean, and they are able to interpret the data to make better informed business decisions. In an age where numbers – and the decisions that can influence those numbers – matter more than ever for many industries, the Professional Accountants (SA) who “gets it” is invaluable.

Focus on the bottom line
Organisations are staffed by a variety of people; some add value through their passion for the organisation’s products or services, but that passion can never be to a financial detriment. Whether an organisation is managed to generate profit or run as a not-for-profit concern, the organisation’s money needs to be managed. Every organisation therefore needs someone in a leadership role that is laser-focused on both the money coming in and leaving the organisation, like Professional Accountants (SA) do. Ironically, it is this very reason that some accountants tend get a bad rap, but an organisation doesn’t remain sustainable for very long unless its leadership has a constant eye on the bottom line.