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CFO Leadership Qualities

What does it mean to be a top CFO today?

By Shane Mugan, Executive Director

In recent years, the role of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has changed dramatically. Not so long ago the CFO’s remit was highly responsible but reasonably clear-cut: as chief accountant for the business his or her first and only priority was to be guardian of the numbers, ensuring that financial information was accurate, robust, fit for purpose and provided on time.

Now, while these principles remain at the heart of the CFO function, the role has become far more complex and diverse, with CFOs becoming an influential force in steering organisational direction and playing a key role in enhancing business performance. So, in addition to financial expertise, what are the attributes and characteristics of a leading CFO today?

  • A good CFO is able to influence the Board, earning their place at the top table by becoming a trusted “business partner” who has the confidence to challenge as well as guide. They are also able to instil this ethos downwards throughout the finance function and across the business as a whole, leading from the top to create an environment in which Finance becomes integrated into and trusted by all business units.
  • Strong commercial focus and sound business acumen.
    The CFO must be a technical specialist but also a pragmatic business leader who brings a sound financial perspective to corporate decision making. An inside-out knowledge of the business and a clear understanding of the marketplace it operates in should be combined with an analytical, judgement-based approach and a clear focus on creating shareholder value.
  • Proactive, forward-thinking, innovative – not words most people would necessarily associate with finance, the traditional core attributes for finance professionals being thoroughness, reliability and competency. And yes, those things are important, however today’s top CFOs balance the two sides of the equation. They look beyond bread and butter finance activities and take the initiative to identify strategic, value adding opportunities to drive the business forward.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
    The best CFOs build a good team around them and are able to motivate and inspire colleagues, clearly communicating the vision for Finance within the organisation and supporting them through change. They are accessible and are good listeners, who focus on developing the skills of their team and retaining talent.
  • Practical and focused approach which balances flexibility with stability.
    In a volatile business environment or one in which the future is uncertain, good CFOs manage risks by creating a sense of stability across the financials, while ensuring that Finance is agile enough to respond to changing business imperatives.

The role of CFO has never been so varied – or so valued – presenting significant opportunities as well as increased responsibilities for talented individuals to play a critical part in the leadership of their organisations. Today’s top CFOs ensure that Finance is a key driver of the business, which not only supports but adds value to all its operations.

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