accountant vs bookkeeper

How do you lead an accounting team?

Accounting teams serve a vital role in organizations. Without the proper leadership, there is a higher risk financial statements will contain errors. Controllers, accounting managers and supervisors must work together to lead personnel in meeting operational objectives. Directing accountants takes the right mix of technical knowledge, managerial skills and communicative ability.

 

Keeping your finance and accounting department well-oiled and highly functional even during peak seasons is a common challenge among organizations. In many companies, an accounting department is a lean unit whose members are subjected to constant stress and tight deadlines.

 

In today’s pandemic-stricken world, leading teams and inspiring accountants can be a challenge. Given the crucial role of the accounting team in a company, it is important for accounting managers, financial controllers, and accounting supervisors to work closely together in leading their personnel to achieve their unit’s operational goals.

 

Knowing everything about the duties and responsibilities of an accountant is not enough; these leaders have to direct and manage their staff with the right balance of technical skills, leadership abilities, and effective communication skills. Leaders have to empower their staff to successfully fulfil their primary objective, which is to ensure that your business is in top financial condition.

 

As a company grows, so do its accounting needs. No matter the size of the company, there are key points that every accounting department has to hit in order to be successful.

 

A successful accounting department is one that operates as quickly as any other department in the company, but also one that provides decision-makers with accurate financial data on their business. More than just record-keeping or check writing, a successful accounting department is one that provides the real-time financial information needed to operate in today’s competitive marketplace.

 

Whether your accounting team is in-house, external, or a blend of the two, these are best practices that separate successful accounting departments from those that want to be successful.

 

Get Timely Information

Successful accounting departments gather key financial information in a timely manner. In today’s day and age, transactional information can be accessed almost instantaneously and incorporated into the accounting system quickly.

 

Without up-to-date financial knowledge, budgeting and other financial forecasting actions cannot be relied upon to be accurate. Additionally, out of date, financial information can make investing or decision making a risky proposition. It’s one thing to learn that your plans exceed your budget, but another entirely to learn this through a check bouncing on the technology or service you’re investing in.

 

Get Accurate Data

Accurate data gathering is essential for a successful accounting department or anyone who wants to call themselves a competent accountant. Without accurate financial data, you will not be able to create actionable business decisions.

 

When a company is making strategic decisions based on an inaccurate budget forecast or a faulty cash-flow statement, the consequences can be huge. They can hinder company performance (or even reputation) for some time.

 

Process and Procedures

Timely information gathering is the goal of a successful accounting department, but processes and procedures are the tools that will bring this success.

 

Having clear, appropriate Handling procedures ensures that responsibility for information gathering is clearly defined and divided among the department’s accountants. Having the proper Reconciliation procedures ensures that all information entered into the company’s master ledger or database is accurate. Finally, having the right Review procedures is a failsafe against inaccuracy, ensuring that no moves are made based on the faulty financial information.

 

Systems and Financial Controls

Any rock-solid accounting department takes steps to control the accuracy of their financial data and reporting system. Having a controller or accountant supervisor overseeing accountants as they move financial data through the accounting cycle helps to account for human error. That being said, the accuracy of a company’s accounting data should never hinge on a particular individual.

 

People make mistakes, and when the person who is supposed to be the “failsafe” makes a mistake, then this can have disastrous consequences. This is why it’s important to have multiple points of review for a company’s financial data, and why controllers and accountants need to reach a consensus at various stages of the accounting cycle.

 

Strategic Decision Making and Execution Based on Financial Data

Financial data is essential for budget and tax purposes and is necessary for strategic decision-making and execution. Acquisitions, investments, and other strategic purchases should only be made when based on good financial data, and the consequences can be devastating for companies who do not.

 

Apart from showing decision-makers the resources they can invest in growing their company, successful accounting departments will analyze company finances for opportunities to reduce costs and free up, even more, resources for growth opportunities. Strategic decisions should always be made with great care, based on both historical and up-to-date financial information. By combining both historical and current data, you can create strong predictors of future performance and trends.

 

Coaching Sessions

If accountants are struggling to prepare their journal entries or account reconciliations, leaders need to coach them on their preparation methods. Helping personnel improve may take a technical discussion or brainstorm on better ways to obtain source documents. It is up to leaders to find the root cause of errors and work with their staff members to find solutions. Effective coaching and two-way communication can lead to increased efficiency or process improvement initiatives.

 

Conflict Mediation

Interpersonal conflict is a part of most teams in a corporate setting. It can be healthy, but only to a certain extent. When arguments and ill-will linger, managers must step in and mediate discussions between the opposing parties. Accounting teams often are under a lot of stress and tight deadlines, which makes it easy for nerves to fray and people to get upset with one another. Leaders who are able to mediate discussions will strengthen their teams and make them more effective.

 

Voting

When an accounting team faces important decisions, taking a vote helps to gain employee buy-in. Although not everyone is going to be happy, voting is seen as a fair process that most people can live with. Leaders who can gain support from their personnel are more likely to overcome adaptive challenges when workloads shift, or accounting departments consolidate. Voting also lets everyone share their opinion on issues, which makes staff members feel included in the decision-making process.

four women talking to each other

Team Building Events

It’s good to get team members away from their cubicles once in a while for a team-building event. Group lunches or special events help blow off steam, and sharing fun moments together is an effective way to build-up interpersonal relationships. Team members who get along will be more willing to help each other with journal entries, reconciliations and other accounting tasks. Leaders who are able to create team spirit are able to turn their staff members into one cohesive unit.

 

Qualities of an Accounting Supervisor

Strong leadership skills

Those are key for all accounting supervisors. Their main job is overseeing the performance of other workers at their department and delegating different tasks to their teams. Accounting supervisors often provide training to staff and ensure that all workers are aware of new laws and regulations. To become an accounting supervisor, you need skills that make one a fine leader in every professional context.

 

Professionalism

Accounting supervisors are always professional and maintain a respectful attitude at work. This is a leadership position, and it compels them to set an example for other workers. You’ll need to be tactful, diplomatic and have a key ability to keep sensitive financial matters secure, making sure that nobody unauthorized can see them.

 

Communication

Successful accounting supervisors are excellent communicators. They lead accounting teams, so the ability to explain complex data in simple terms is really important – both in writing and verbally. Knowing how to provide clear and understandable instructions to your staff is crucial.

 

Customer relations

Just like any other supervisor, accounting supervisors will come into contact with customers, especially if they lead an accounting firm providing services to businesses and individuals. To be successful, you need to be courteous with clients, able to identify their concerns and address them the best way you can.

 

Management skills

Strong management skills are important if you’d like to become an accounting supervisor. Those will help you to lead your team efficiently and get the best results possible from your work. You must be able to coordinate the work of a team of account clerks, as well as other junior staff accountants. Great accounting supervisors help their team members to develop skills and resources to keep their productivity and company performance high.

 

Accuracy

The field of accounting is based on accuracy, and leading a team of accountants requires lots of it. The accounting team manages the company’s income and expenses – bad management automatically increases the risk of poor financial performance, leading straight to a disaster. Lack of accuracy exhibited by a leader could lead to penalties – for instance, if they forget to comply with industry regulations.

 

Honesty

Accounting supervisors are there to be trusted. That’s why they should demonstrate high standards of honesty. Supervisors should be ready to deal with any discrepancies or financial irregularities that could easily compromise the company’s integrity.

 

Stress management

Accounting supervisors are like other leaders and need to be able to maintain their calm under pressure. You might be working under hectic and chaotic conditions – to be successful, and you need to be able to perform well even under pressure and stress. This is especially the case during busy seasons when reports and tax returns are due, and the amount of work seems to rise by the hour.

 

Technical know-how

This might come as a surprise, but great accounting supervisors need to have some technical know-how. Supervising requires a certain level of computer expertise since accounting software is always changing – adaptation to working with new programs is part of every supervisor’s professional life.

 

Ensuring that the company maintains accurate accounting records and complies with financial regulations, accounting supervisors play a very important role in leading companies towards financial success. If you’d like to become one of them, you better prepare for some hard work ahead!

 

Hold team-building activities.

As the head of the department, it is your responsibility to be on the lookout for signs of burnout among your team members, especially during peak seasons.

 

To prevent that, make sure your team functions as a cohesive unit, where one can work without too much strain. Once everything is back to normal, scheduling regular face-to-face sessions with your team might be a big help. Even having lunch with your finance and accounting department can work wonders to boost their morale, as this allows you to share fun moments.

 

In the meantime, while we’re all still working from home, schedule one-on-one catch-up sessions to touch base with each of your team members. Keep them engaged and reassured that you’ve got their back in these trying times.

 

Review your work processes and conduct employee training as needed.

Every so often, it would be good to conduct interviews with your staff and key process owners to understand your day-to-day operations better. You can use this time to identify any inefficiencies or redundancies in your work processes, as well as to gain a better handle on your team’s workflow. By having a clearer picture of your team’s tasks and where their skill level is at, you can also find learning gaps that should be addressed by training.

 

Cultivate a culture of learning.

Keep your finance and accounting department staff up-to-date with the latest developments in accounting and finance by promoting the use of accounting best practices. If possible, invest in their continuous learning and professional development by sponsoring out-of-the-office training opportunities, or lending support if they choose to pursue higher learning. By doing so, you can significantly increase accuracy, response time, data quality, and employee morale.

 

Conduct coaching sessions and promote mentoring.

Studies have shown that employee coaching and regular feedback increases employees’ level of engagement. In addition, coaching is an effective way to make your employees accountable and motivated at work. On the other hand, inviting senior members of the accounting department to mentor newer staff is a good way to enhance your office culture, while helping promote knowledge sharing.

 

When making a decision that affects everyone, get your team’s buy-in.

When there are tough decisions that need to be made, encourage your team to pitch ideas and be involved. These conversations may include improving work processes, adopting new technologies, and so on. If applicable, you can call important decisions to a vote so that every team member will feel involved in a particular direction that you will be taking.

 

Automate Manual Processes

With the growing regulatory complexity and increasing client demands, the accounting department is constantly pressured to explore varying strategies to improve productivity and reduce back-office costs. The process of analyzing and measuring finances can be time-consuming and also expensive. As the transaction volumes are increasing exponentially, hiring more employees is not a viable option any longer.

 

According to a study conducted by the Association of Accountants and Financial Professionals in Business and BlackLine, focusing on manual processes increased the probability of errors and the time spent on financial statements.

 

In this technological era, the accounting department should be provided with a system which serves to automate the complex tasks. Manual tasks should be reduced as much as possible and replaced by automated processes.

 

With the right software solution, automation can help accountants not only mundane tasks such as creating invoices, generating reports but also help them to manage taxes and calculate profit & loss with just a few clicks. Business owners should encourage their accounting staff to find ways to speed up their existing accounting tasks.

 

Maintain Good Communication With Your Team

Good communication is key to business success. Most of the time, employees who aren’t aware of what is expected of them rarely perform to their potential.

 

Business owners should communicate their expectations upfront so that the accounting department has clarity on things to do. Talk to as many members as possible, from senior CPAs to the junior-most accountants.

 

It is a good idea to keep the accounting department in the loop about business goals, ongoing projects, and deadlines. Listen to their opinions and encourage their feedback.

 

You would be surprised to know the kind of insights the accounting department can offer. With a good communication medium and numerous opportunities to provide feedback, the accounting team can express their views and concerns without any hesitation.

 

Leverage The Latest Technologies

For businesses to become successful, they need to build a long and lasting relationship with their clients. In order to do that, businesses must leverage technology to its full potential.

 

Accountants spend a lot of time doing their tasks manually, such as cash management, data analysis, and reporting. Apart from the possibility of errors, it is also an expensive process in the long run.

 

Accountants’ role in today’s digital era has evolved. They can now accomplish more in less time, and their role has now become less transactional and more strategic. With today’s technology, small and medium-sized businesses can increase their productivity without spending a lot of money.

 

For instance, cloud technology is changing the entire digital workflow. With numerous benefits of cloud technology for accountants such as real-time access to data, improved collaboration, and increased flexibility, the accounting process has become more flexible than ever.

 

You don’t need to be the loudest or most gregarious person to manage people in an accounting job, but you do need to possess some key leadership skills. And if you lack in any of the areas as mentioned earlier, you’d be wise to beef up on these skills via professional development training or targeted mentorship opportunities.

 

The performance of the accounting department should be continuously monitored. These tips would help streamline your accounting department, and you will find a value-adding entity within the firm.

 

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