They’re not ‘soft skills’ for accountants, they’re Key Business Skills

Nov 13, 2018 | Accountants, Business Strategy, Key Business skills, Reputation, Speaking skills

I know that my own career success owes more to the development of non-technical skills than it does to my knowledge and application of accounting and tax law.

How do we gain our technical skills? No one is born a great auditor, tax adviser or accountant. We learn by working alongside experienced colleagues, by studying to pass relevant exams, by our experiences in practice and by continuous study and CPD.

Why then should anyone imagine that the other key skills required to be a successful and profitable accountant can just be left to ‘common sense’?

Some people assume that all of the important non-technical skills can be developed merely by working alongside experienced colleagues and by learning ‘on the job’. No formal training is necessary. Older partners didn’t have such training. Anyone who needs training or support in ‘soft’ skills is not worthy of becoming a full equity partner. What nonsense!

It won’t surprise regular readers of this blog that I disagree with such views and with another similarly flawed attitude one encounters all too often: Practice makes perfect. No it doesn’t. ‘Practice’ makes ‘permanent’. If you develop bad driving habits and practice driving, you won’t become a better driver. You will merely reinforce your bad driving habits.

I have long been frustrated by use of the term ‘soft skills’. The implication is that they are not ‘hard’; they are soft; They are for softies.  The way we talk about such skills even suggests that they are optional as distinct from the obligation to keep our technical knowledge up to date and sharp. That’s hard.

In my talks about the future of accountancy I highlight the reasons why Key Business Skills will be even more important to accountants than ever before.  I don’t use the phrase ‘soft skills’ and would encourage you to stop using the it too.

I believe that, over the next few years, more accountants will need to be able to generate business other than from clients needing help to fulfil their annual legal obligations. This will require a greater concentration on skills that many accountants haven’t focused on to date.

Ten years ago my research helped me to identify and categorise 12 key non-technical skills that ambitious accountants needed, to at least some degree, if they were to contribute to the success of their firm (whatever the size). Now I am updating that research. With the rise of robo-accountants and artificial intelligence, we will see an even greater emphasis on non-technical skills.

You will almost certainly need to develop and enhance a number of Key Business Skills (KBS) over the next few years.

As the range of services you offer clients evolves, as it almost certainly will do, you’ll be competing with a wider range of service providers – so not just other accountants, qualified or otherwise. You’ll be competing with those who have invested in developing the KBS they need to win over your clients, to win their trust and to win their confidence.

Perhaps even more worryingly you’ll probably be competing head on with business coaches and management consultants too. They are already well ahead of the average accountant in terms of their ability to help business owners appreciate the value to be gained from their services.

If you want to stay on top, despite the rise of robo-accountants, you’ll want to develop those skills too. They really are Key Business Skills.

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