What skills set does it take to be successful as an accountant or tax adviser?

Some years ago I routinely highlighted the need to build and develop personal and business skills in addition to technical skills. It’s all very well to understand accounting and tax rules and how to produce a set of accounts and tax returns, but ambitious accountants need a wider skills set if they want to be successful. Today I return to the topic – for reasons that will become apparent.

It has long been my experience, and that of other training providers, that accountants and tax advisers are far more willing to invest in keeping up to date technically, than they are to invest in their personal development.

The number of attendees at technical courses will often be more than double the number who seek out non-technical CPD. This seems to be seen as simply a nice-to-have, rather than a crucial element of becoming and remaining a successful accountant or tax adviser. I find this odd as my own career success in practice owed far more to my non-technical skills than it did to my technical ones. And I know I’m not alone. It’s actually very common. Some of those skills may have come naturally to me but most benefitted from the numerous training courses I attended, books I read and tapes(!) I listened to over the years.

What prompted this blog post was the impassioned plea contained in a full page letter published in the June 2013 issue of Tax Adviser magazine. The letter  was written by Margaret Connolly, Partner and Head of Taxation at Reeves, a major firm of Accountants with over 40 partners in south-east England.

Margaret doesn’t mention non-technical skills as such but does note, inter alia, that:

Too many bright and talented tax staff only have experience of compliance work; They have had very little opportunity or experience in the advisory field even if they have secured an ATT or CIOT qualification.

“What makes a good tax adviser is the possession of the ability to interpret tax legislation and to apply it to each and every situation offerred by clients; indeed this is what clients expect.”

Those coming into the profession today are not afforded the time or encouraged to undertake detailed technical research, to think for themselves and offer their understanding of the legislation.

Most experienced tax partners today are under too much pressure to meet billing targets such that they cannot devote time to training up less experienced colleagues.

Although candidates’ CVs imply they have relevant experience, when probed during interviews they seem unable to demonstrate that they can give advice that considers all relevant tax issues.

If the profession doesn’t provide return to the days of adequate on the job training we will end up with a dearth of good quality tax advisers.

I have long believed that a period of varied and relevant practical experience is crucial over and above the achievement of professional qualifications. For this reason I entirely agree with Margaret Connolly’s concerns. But I would go further.

To be a successful accountant or tax adviser I believe  that you also need a range of personal and business skills and to have practiced these in real life client and office scenarios. Yes, you can learn some ‘on the job’ but why not accelerate your personal development in the same way as you do your technical skills? We think so much of this is common sense. Some is of course – with the benefit of hindsight. But we need to make it common practice and that’s quite different. We also need to learn about best practice and new techniques.

A few years ago I created a personal skills audit for ambitious accountants and tax advisers. It’s a one page note that highlights a dozen key skill areas. At the time I planned to act as a mentor, but I no longer have time for this. Still, I have dug it out and you can now access the note with my compliments through this link>> [edited: for a few weeks I was sending this by email but it’s become so popular….]. You can then see for yourself which areas seem to be important to you in your current role. You can also then grade yourself, honestly, for each of those skills on a scale of 1-10. What you do with the results is upto you.

And if you have any views on this topic, do please let me know direct or add your comments below this blog post.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

By |2018-07-12T07:56:50+00:00June 13th, 2013|Career development, Key Business skills, STANDING OUT|

About the Author:

Mark Lee FCA is an accountancy focused futurist, influencer, speaker, mentor, author and debunker.


  1. Quintin Scott 13th June 2013 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Hi Mark, good article. Could I trouble you for the skills audit document. I am intrigued.
    Kind regards

  2. Sarah 13th June 2013 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    I very much agree, especially with the emphasis on “remaining” a good tax adviser. But in the plethora of advice/business training offers, where do you suggest we focus? We all know where to find good quality technical CPD, through the main professional and publishing bodies, but maybe not where we find good quality key personal skills CPD. What resources have been successful for others? And yes please to your list, Mark, with thanks.

  3. Yetunde 14th June 2013 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Great article. I agree it’s all too easy for some to forget personal skills in the drive to master their technical accounting skills. When faced with two accountants with identical technical skills, clients or potential employers are likely to go with the accountant who displayed the personal and business skills that will be of value to their own requirements.

  4. Yetunde 14th June 2013 at 7:39 am - Reply

    Ah, forgot to mention that I would also like to have a copy of your skill audit document.


  5. Gary 14th June 2013 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Very good article. Its also very true what Yetunde has said, but a lot of people just don’t focus on this enough. I would also love a copy of your skills audit document.


  6. Julie 16th June 2013 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    All of this really is very obvious and just common sense, which is why it needs saying. So many professionals (in all fields) hide behind their expertise when they could contribute far more.
    I’d love a copy of your list please Mark.

  7. David 17th June 2013 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    Good article Mark. Could I also trouble you for a copy of the list?

    With kind regards.

  8. Malcolm 18th June 2013 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Could I please have a copy of the list so I may attempt to grade myself ?
    Should be fun !

  9. Arthur Howard 18th June 2013 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    Mark Hi.

    I missed you at Accountex, too many seminars to attend, I spent the two days there as well?

    May I also have a copy of your “What Skills” please. I am intrigued.

    Thank you very much.


  10. Arthur Howard 18th June 2013 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    You have become a “leading light” in our Profession , long may it continue. I know you are not ‘on the make’ and that you genuinely enjoy helping fellow Professionals.

    Well done mark.


  11. Malcolm Veall 18th June 2013 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    Mark, another request for a copy!

  12. Katy Macaree 18th June 2013 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    As always you supply food for thought.
    May I too trouble you for a copy of the document.

  13. Muhammad Haider 18th June 2013 at 5:23 pm - Reply

    Very informative article. I am really impressed. Also, could you please send me a copy of self-audit document.
    Many thanks

  14. Mélinda Cann 18th June 2013 at 11:13 pm - Reply

    Found this post really useful and thought provoking. Would love it if you could email me the skills audit document.
    Many thanks

  15. Margaret Mundy 19th June 2013 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    I should really appreciate a copy of the skills audit document.
    Many thanks

  16. roger 19th June 2013 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    Interesting piece but don’t like audits – how about making it more sexy ? Can i have a copy please – could do with some light reading for the beach


  17. Ranita 20th June 2013 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    Interesting article and thought provoking. Could I have a copy of the skills audit document please.

    Thank you

    Best wishes

  18. […] only who sees this, just ask Mark Lee.  I think he really hit the nail on the head when he said this, “It’s all very well to understand accounting and tax rules and how to produce a set of […]

  19. Sam 24th June 2013 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    An accounting practice is like any other business so business and personal skills are critical for success. Thanks for always keeping it simple.
    I will appreciate a copy of the skills audit.

    Kind regards

  20. bookmarklee 24th June 2013 at 9:40 pm - Reply

    Thanks all for your kind comments and interest. I have been sending emails containing the personal skills self audit document to everyone who has asked either here or by direct email. Happy to send out any more that are requested.

  21. James Hellyer 25th June 2013 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    This is an interesting one. When I worked in other practices, I often picked courses from the CPD handbook that were about developing “soft” skills. Each time the request was turned down because the course wasn’t technical enough!

    Now I run my own business, I can see just how important these skills are.

    I’d like a copy of the self-audit document too please!

  22. Oscar 2nd July 2013 at 12:45 am - Reply

    Thanks Mark – this is an absolute godsend, just as I’m in the process of starting up my own practice.

    Please can I also have a copy of your skills self audit document?

    Many thanks.

  23. Tony 16th July 2013 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Could I please trouble you for a copy of the list?

    Many thanks


  24. Tina Estevam 17th July 2013 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    Great insight and it is very relevant in my stage of career transition. I would appreciate a copy of the list. Thank you. TN

  25. Rolando Garcia-Lago 2nd August 2013 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Please e-mail me a copy of your Personal skills audit for ambitious accountants and tax advisers

  26. Jamila 24th August 2013 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Very helpful article. Can you please send me the personal skills audit for ambitious accountant and tax advisers. Thanks Jamila

  27. Shenaz 23rd November 2013 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    Hi Mark,
    I too would like a copy of this list please, if It helps me to be half the accountant and advisor you are then I’m sure it’s definitely worth a read.

  28. Lesley 31st December 2013 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    Hi Mark
    could I please have a copy of the personal skills audit form.
    thank you

  29. Accounting Services in UAE 13th August 2014 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Well said, very nice article.

  30. […] What skills does it take to be successful as an Accountant or Tax Adviser? […]

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