The era of the bean-counting finance silo is disappearing. In organisations across the world today, there’s a groundswell of change around the CFOs role. Instead, Chief finance officers are being asked to provide more strategic support, and step into the role of business partner to other departments and operational executives.
But the new role comes with distinct responsibilities that require specific talents. Where a good head for numbers used to suffice, now CFOs need to manage relationships, lead with confidence, communicate effectively and negotiate successfully. These soft skills may be tacitly understood, but are they yet overtly accepted as requirements for the modern CFO job?
FSN undertook a highly unscientific survey of 20 random CFO profiles on Linkedin to see if these soft skills are being promoted or even mentioned within the skillset of these finance professionals. Half were men and half were women.
The results (which do not constitute a scientific conclusion merely an informal hunch) show that most CFOs still favour the hard skills in their profile, but of the ones that do generously pepper them with soft skills, most are women.
Obviously, it is necessary for CFOs to promote their operational and financial acumen. Without the experience of budgeting and planning, statutory reporting, treasury management, M&A and all the other finance-related responsibilities, it would hardly be worth hiring a new CFO. But the question is, should soft skills feature in the profile and if so, how much weight should they be given?
The answer we believe is that a CFO profile should reflect their duties and function. And soft skills are becoming increasingly important for a CFO to take on a more strategic role in the organisation, so they should be reflected in how they present themselves on a public business forum like Linkedin.
At the moment, the majority of profiles are predictably ‘hard’ skilled – “Results orientated”, “rigorous analytical approach”, “commercial”, “operational and financial restructuring”, “cost savings and efficiency improvements”.
Only a few mention soft skills, mostly focussed on people management and business partnering. “Creating a mindset of business partnering”, “people focused leadership across diverse cultural environments”, “excellent people skills”, “managing collaborative relationships”.
The dearth of soft skills in CFO profiles could be because they’re harder to measure, and harder to ‘prove’. But it could also be because they aren’t being properly valued. For now. The changing role of the CFO has been a gradual process, but it is gaining traction. You’d be hard pressed to find a CFO these days that isn’t required to demonstrate at least some of the communication, presentation, leadership and negotiation skills that come with a more strategic role in the organisation.
But their soft skills aren’t being used as a unique selling point for their CFO credentials. Until the interview, organisations don’t know whether they have ALL the skills needed to be a successful CFO in a cut-throat start-up disruptor culture. Incidentally it was this competitive culture that was the catalyst for these role changes in the first place.
Of those that do include soft skills, the balance is weighted towards the female CFO, with six in ten of them including some people and communication style skills in their Linkedin profile, (compared with three in ten of the male CFO profiles). Without getting into a gender debate, it does seem the women have stolen a march on their male counterparts.
CFOs who bring their soft skills to the forefront and showcase them alongside their financial acumen, indicate that they recognise the value of the changes in their role, and the value they can add to their organisation.