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Controllers: interpersonal skills are better than technical ones

16 June 2022
The assumption that management accountants value technical skills such as bookkeeping more and see them as the most important competency can be scrapped. Research shows that they themselves consider interpersonal skills (strong communication) much more important and want more training in them.

This conclusion does not entirely surprise Tjerk Budding, training director of the public controllers programs and one of the initiators of the study on desired competencies among management accountants in the public sector.  "You see that management accountants (also called public controllers in the Netherlands) have recently been moving closer and closer to managers and directors. They are thus asked to think proactively about financial and social issues within an organization," says Budding. It is therefore not surprising, he says, that interpersonal skills, where the interaction with people in the areas of communication, leadership and collaboration are central, are better valued.

Further development
On the other hand, Budding was astonished when the management accountants themselves indicated that interpersonal skills had so much room for improvement. Older management accountants over the age of 45, in particular, outlined that there was a big gap between what competencies they already had and what was desired.

There is an explanation for this, by the way, says Budding. "If you look at the job of a management accountant, you see that it has developed from someone who mainly does the calculations into a person who takes on an advisory role within the organization. This goes beyond merely analyzing figures and running reports from Excel. Because of this further development, they not only need technical knowledge, but they feel that their soft skills in the area of communication are not yet sufficiently shaped for the managerial position they are in." 

For Budding, who conducted the study together with his colleagues Marion Smit and Gert de Jong, it is in any case clear what should be done with the results. The curriculum of public controller courses will have to pay even more attention to the importance of interpersonal skills. Not only for young students, but for all age groups who want to further their education. 

Social profile
Budding is aware that society demands more from management accountants than just helping to monitor costs in an organization. The Public Control, Advisory & Leadership module of the program already pays attention to advisory skills, but there is still room for improvement, believes the trainingdirector. 

Budding: "Our faculty has a social profile and we have a broad range of controller training programs for public and private sectors. What we want to achieve now is that our students and alumni are able to use their social skills in a good way for organizational issues, where the social and financial sides really come together. Indeed, they should not only be people who think only in terms of money, but also understand the social consequences that can arise in relation to certain financial decisions."

Read more about the study New development: bridging the gap - analysis of requiered competencies for management accountants in the public sector in the open access journal Public Money & Management.