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What constitutes good financial leadership?

Posted on June 19, 2014

Just like every other business sector, the charity sector has suffered in recent years. A decline in funding and donations has meant charities have needed to become more commercially savvy and seek innovative ways to raise funds, which also means that financial leadership is a vital part of the leadership mix.

Charity finance leaders today must provide a support service for the entire organisation to ensure people get the information they need to fulfil their roles and the needs of beneficiaries.

Their role is to deliver outstanding ‘customer service,’ which means that the days of accountants sitting behind computer screens and analysing spreadsheets are long gone. Instead, finance leaders need to be highly visible and engage with managers across the organisations.

Kevin Geeson, CEO, Dyslexia Action, one of the judges of our financial leadership awards puts it well. He says that the role of the finance leader is to ‘unite’ the different business functions, helping them understand what can be done better and then helping making that happen. They need to be ‘part of the solution’, not the person who always says ‘no’, a traditional perception of a finance director.

In my view, the biggest barrier preventing good financial leadership in charities are finance professionals who rely too much on their technical skills and qualifications rather than investing time communicating with others and understanding the challenges facing the individual departments and the organisation.

To counteract this, finance professionals must get out from behind their computer and work with people on the frontline.  They need to invest time and effort in ensuring managers and staff are aware of what they do, listen to what their colleagues need and interpret what the numbers really mean so everyone can understand them.

Below are my thoughts on what makes a good financial leader gained through my experience coaching finance professionals:

  • Understanding the business means that the financial leader can contribute to the organisation's strategy but also lead their own team with a vision for the finance function and how it can serve the greater vision of the organisation.
  • Inevitably, a leader has to manage change and deal with resistance to change. A strong vision and an understanding of how to lead people through a change process is essential.
  • Part of your toolkit to lead change is good communication skills in all media, not forgetting that this includes listening, as well as telling.
  • To lead, you need to have good coaching skills to bring out the best in your team. But you also want your team members to develop their own coaching skills so they can develop the next tier of staff as well as supporting other staff on their budgets and reports.
  • Bringing new ideas and innovation is part of a financial leader's role and should not be left to the 'creative' types in the organisation. Finding better ways of working and driving efficiency is a good place to start innovating.

Simon Hopkins, Group FD and Deputy CEO at Elizabeth Finn Care who is one of the speakers on the financial leadership course we run in partnership with Cass CCE and CFG says that financial leaders need to get their ‘licence to operate’ by various strategies. He suggests one tactic is to use your analytical ability with numbers to cast fresh light on old problems.

We’re calling for entries for our 2014 Financial Leadership Awards. Find out more at www.sayervincent.co.uk and nominate one of your colleagues before 21 July 2014.

Kate Sayer is Partner at Sayer Vincent, a firm of chartered accountants that has been dedicated to charities and social enterprises for over 30 years. Find out more about Sayer Vincent's course, run in partnership with Cass CCE and CFG, on Inspiring Financial Leadership.

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