CFOs say soft skills are needed, but many aren’t offering training in them

CFOs say poor interpersonal skills are the top reason for an employee’s failure to advance in the company. But finance chiefs are far more likely to offer training in more technical categories — accounting or finance, and information technology — than in soft skills, according to a new survey.

The top three reasons for an employee failing to advance, according to an Accountemps survey of 2,100 US CFOs, are poor interpersonal skills (30%), poor work ethic (25%) and not developing new skills (23%). While emphasis on soft-skills training has increased since 2008 (the last time the survey question was asked), more than four out of five CFOs are still not likely to offer such training.

“Accounting and finance professionals have gradually assumed increased visibility, expanded roles and greater influence within their firms over the past several years, making soft skills an essential competency today,” Accountemps chairman Max Messmer said in a news release.

To be sure, finance chiefs have received the soft-skills memo: In the 2008 survey just 8% of CFOs said they would likely offer interpersonal or communication training. And in the current survey, those skills were likely to be offered by 19% of CFOs. But that was still third behind accounting (32%) and IT skills (29%). Training in soft skills ranked just ahead of management training (17%).

As CFOs (or CFOs-to-be) try to become more involved in strategy, they must broaden their scope, learning to converse outside their familiar finance dialect, another study suggests. A 2012 Ernst & Young report said that finance professionals need to be conversant in the languages of investors, financial analysts, customers, partners and employees — stakeholders who seek instant, transparent analysis.

In other words, it’s not enough for finance to deliver numbers only.

Related CGMA Magazine content:

To Ascend to CFO Role, Controllers Must Take a Broader Look at Business”: Controllers have some of the skills needed to become financial directors, but they need to adjust their detail-oriented focus to a broader, more strategic way of thinking. Here are key ways controllers can make themselves CFO-worthy.

Internal Audit: The Importance of Being ‘Soft’”: Companies are increasingly turning to internal auditors to identify operational risks, provide business advice and analyse information at the speed of light. With so much on internal auditors’ plates, effective communication can easily be overlooked. Here’s a look at why communication is such a vital tool for internal auditors.

Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.