5 tips on how to succeed as a new accounting manager
Congratulations - you’ve been promoted to accounting manager! Promotion to a first time manager of accountants is an exciting validation of your accounting competencies, contributions, and performance. However, you may also experience parallel thoughts and wonder how you can successfully make the role transition from individual contributor to managing and leading others.
Being new to managing accountants can be difficult, as your new role requires a different set of behaviors than your previous non-managerial role. What are the critical success factors and what does success “look like”? In this article, I will address several of the most common role transition concerns after being promoted and general tips for new accounting managers. Let’s get started!
Ensuring the successful performance of others
One of my first tips for new accounting managers is to ensure the success of others. Prior to becoming an accounting manager, you were responsible for only your own performance behavior. You knew your goals and objectives, skills, optimal work style, scheduling, etc. You were responsible for yourself and only yourself, but now, you are responsible for the successful performance of others. So, how do you ensure that others perform well?
In pursuit of empowering others to succeed, I encourage new managers to solicit feedback from their team members from the start. Specifically, I recommend new managers conduct a series of virtual or in-person meetings where you as the new manager:
- Ask the following questions (and customize as needed)
- Record the responses for you and the participants to review, provide feedback and align on
- Summarize and publish findings for the team to use as guidelines for team performance
Here’s a list of possible questions to ask that will help you get to know those you are managing and that can help you lead your team to success. I recommend sending out the questions you are going to ask one week ahead of time so participants can review and prepare their responses accordingly.
- What work tasks highly motivate you to work above and beyond?
- What work tasks are the most challenging for you?
- What is your top priority right now?
- What does success look like for each task you are working on?
- What is your single, biggest job-wise concern going forward?
It is essential to recognize that you are in the role of enabling and empowering others to solve problems while using their unique expertise. Having this mindset will kick off the building of a set of shared experiences and objectives that will serve as a roadmap for the teams’ successful performance. Be sure to repeat these discussions on a regular basis so you’re always able to have a good handle on team sentiment.
Knowing your personal and professional boundaries
Another one of my tips for new accounting managers is to know your personal and professional boundaries. When working with others, there are always explicit and implicit rules of engagement. Explicit rules are company policy – for example, legal and human resources requirements (ex. cybersecurity precautions, conflicts of interest scenarios, etc.) In contrast, implicit demands include factors like working styles and conflict management. In the transition to a first time manager of accountants, you may need to revisit your boundaries or rules of engagement with individuals that were formerly peers.
Most organizations provide mandatory compliance training so managers can understand the explicit rules of engagement. However, addressing implicit or unspoken rules is part of the usually “awkward” shift from individual contributor to accounting manager. However, your former same-level peers are most likely feeling the same way, and you can openly acknowledge these feelings. You can address this in your individual chats with team members and discuss what will or won’t change surrounding your promotion.
As with the previous exercise, I recommend sending out questions you are going to ask in these discussions one week ahead of time so participants can review and prepare their responses. Repeat these discussions on an as-needed basis.
Assessing your performance as a manager
If you want to know how to succeed as a new accounting manager, start by assessing your overall performance. As a new accounting manager, you will be judged on not only your performance but the performance of others as well. Your management will be looking to you to report performance and be responsible for actions outside of your former subject matter expertise, which can include all business areas.
Put together a detailed plan of what the goals and objectives are for your team, specifying the expectations of those that you work with. This will help to focus your team’s interactions on business outcomes, and will also provide upper management tangible information to analyze, discuss, and evaluate performance.
Use the input you have received from the above two sets of meetings. This will give you a foundation of data and points of view and will signal to others that you are incorporating their input and ideas into your department planning.
Successfully leading and managing others
Another one of my new accountant manager tips is to be able to successfully lead and manage others. Areas that bolster competencies in your new role fall into a combination of leader and manager skills and behaviors. In general, “leader” behaviors are future-focused. They tend to be strategic, focusing on communication and building a network of key work relationships. On the other hand, “manager” behaviors are present-focused, tactical, and more focused on operations, development, and enabling optimum performance on a day-to-day level.
You and your team will benefit from you balancing both leader and manager behaviors. By implementing the qualities of both a manager and a leader, you can clearly communicate your team’s direction by specifying team objectives both in the long term and short term. As a leader, you have the agency to make decisions that rapidly develop key relationships and skills for your team, and can ensure team members’ continuous development and growth through upskilling.
Use the following self-assessment tool to gauge your readiness as a new leader/ manager. The results of the self-assessment will enable you to better prioritize your areas of strength and point out where you might need coaching and training.
Shift happens: Preparing for the new and next normal
One of my final tips for new accounting managers is to prepare for the new normal. There are a number of changes that are impacting the accounting industry and in the post-COVID world that your team members will have questions about. For example, with the increasing digitalization of certain accounting processes, global cybersecurity concerns, and a host of other issues, accountants will need to continuously upgrade their skills to face these challenges head-on.
Each of these changes will demand learning new skills and training. As a new manager, you will need to ensure that you receive coaching and direction to understand how your organization should respond to these changes. You will also need to enable your team members to receive new knowledge and skills to meet these challenges. Becker has a wide variety of CPE courses across different fields of study that can help your team members upskill and grow professionally.
A promotion to accounting manager brings on a number of challenges, from work-related hurdles to personal ones. Remember that you were promoted because you’re more than capable of managing not only yourself but others as well. With these accounting manager tips, you can help make the transition from self-managing to managing others a breeze.
Want to learn more about leading and managing others? Enroll in Becker’s CPE courses “Leading vs. managing: What to do when and with whom” and how to be a manager to learn how you can apply leadership behaviors to produce successful business outcomes.
For more career advice and leadership tips for new accounting managers, visit the Becker career blog.
James Eicher is the creator of Cognitive Management, which applies research from the cognitive sciences to organizational and leadership behavior. He has held leadership positions at KPMG, Booz Allen Hamilton, Symantec, and IBM among others, and has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and Selling magazine.
Mr. Eicher is the author of many organizational change management and leadership articles, assessments, and book chapters, as well as the management communication text Making the Message Clear.
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