Looking out for number one: Stories from solo accountants

Are you the only accountant in your organization? If so, here are three things you need to know to make the most out of your job—and build strong bonds with key stakeholders

Speaking to another person with an accounting or finance background is easy: you speak the same language. But what if you’re one of the only accounting people—or the only one—in your company?

Poor communication between accounting and the rest of the organization is a real danger and can be costly. According to a study by the Project Management Institute (PMI), ineffective communication is the primary contributor to project failure 33 per cent of the time.

But, there is hope. Knowing how to keep the communication lines open can improve the efficiency and success of your initiatives. Below are three skills—beyond agility with numbers—that will help you succeed in any organization.

  1. Know how to communicate with key stakeholders.
    While you may be up to date on changes to accounting standards or regulations, an important role of accountants is to help stakeholders—board directors and executive management, in particular—gain an awareness and understanding of the impact those changes will have on the business, says Cindy Kottoor in a recent report on changes to Canadian Auditing Standards. For each group of people, consider what needs to be communicated, when that discussion should occur, why the topic is important, and include some of the associated benefits to stakeholders and auditors.
  2. Understand your audience and their concerns.
    As the sole CPA in an organization, you will almost certainly find yourself collaborating with other functions. But, working with different work types and skill sets can be challenging. According to a Robert Half survey of CFOs, the top pitfalls of navigating the cross-departmental hurdle are the range of personalities, workplace stress (including the pressures of risk management and compliance regulations, for example), conflicting deadlines (others in the company many not understand the long hours required of accountants during tax season or end-of-year fiscal reporting) and jargon. As much as possible, replace lingo with everyday language—and use charts and graphs to illustrate financial information.
  3. Deliver bad news well.
    Bad news happens, and unfortunately, when it concerns accounting or finance, the news can be really bad. But to avoid finding yourself as the proverbial wounded messenger, learn how to communicate the news quickly and clearly. Don’t waste time delivering the information. As soon as you can, gather the relevant audience and let them know what has happened. Make sure you have the facts, and share them without positive or negative embellishment. Finally, if possible, try to offer potential solutions to soften the blow and guide the conversation to a productive outcome.

Whether you’re the sole accountant in a company or part of a small finance team, recognize your importance to the organization and take your role and responsibilities seriously. Think outside the numbers box: consider broad strategic goals of the business and learn to make your information tell the story of where the company has been, where you are now, and how to reach future goals.


Any other skills you feel are useful for the sole accountant? Post a comment below.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.