While being highly competent and confident in your technical abilities are unquestionably vital to being a valuable professional, soft skills can give you an edge.
We asked ACCA members at an experienced management level what their most valued soft skills are and why.
Martina Stromkova ACCA, Assistant Manager, EMEA Reporting at SMBCE
This helps when building relationships with colleagues, handling resistance and maintaining morale in the team. The reason I work on this particular skill is that I feel people tend to hide behind the masses in the corporate world and believe that being detached means professional. But if each colleague believes that they are treated as an individual and their needs are acknowledged, much more gets done and it is a pleasure to work in such an environment. So ask everyone how they are, if you can help them in any way, and attend company socials in order to get to know your colleagues - even if you’re an introvert, as I am.
This is a very broad term, but for me it means always asking why, questioning the status quo. One does not need to be creative all the time, just curious and critical. Sometimes that means that certain individuals could get offended, especially if they are well ‘established’ in their role, but senior management usually appreciates such input.
Moreover, your day-to-day good work performed well won’t get acknowledged - it is expected. You need to bring more to the table in order for chances to be involved in exciting projects. Yet there is a fine line between being curious and being annoying, so it is best to do as much of your own research before asking questions.
For the above to work, one needs to be great at time management, be it your own workload or the team’s. If you are great with people and have amazing ideas but are not so good at delivering, you won’t be taken seriously. I have learned this the hard way. I used to prioritise whatever came my way and came up with ‘genuine’ reasons for not sticking to my deadlines, and then I wondered why I was getting excluded from new projects. Timely delivery is essential and the only genuine excuse for not sticking to a deadline is an emergency.
Samuel Leach ACCA, Assistant Manager at EY London
Presentations and communication
Presentations tend to be a pet hate for most people and the only way you overcome this is through practice. At EY, there are a number of opportunities to develop presentation skills, whether it be delivering training to the more junior members, presenting findings of a project to a client, an alternative approach to the manager group or promoting your services in a tender to a potential client.
Now in my fourth year at EY, I have been able to provide training to interns as well as insights into internal services offered that have reduced the pressure on the manager group. The most recent was a budget versus actual report for engagements, produced by our offshore team, which I pitched to the insurance department. This helped improve engagement economic monitoring, allowing managers to cut unnecessary costs incurred during the engagement as opposed to retrospectively. As a result, this report has been rolled out across the insurance department. Keeping the presentation concise, practicing the delivery and pre-empting questions from the user’s perspective enabled me to deliver the content confidently and gain a positive reception.
Leadership and managing stakeholder expectations
I now lead multiple audit teams at once, meaning prioritisation is essential in order to deliver against these deadlines. Learning to delegate effectively is a skill that has taken time. EY prides itself on empowering individuals from an early stage and provides challenging opportunities from day one. Finding a balance between completing the work yourself and delegating frees up time for the ‘bigger issues’, and means those areas that really require your experience can be tackled effectively. This has to be balanced with an appropriate level of review in order to retain audit quality, satisfying the regulator, and ensuring the audit is financially viable for the firm.
This is a difficult skill to perfect, especially under severe time constraints and the pressures of the modern working world. It is no secret that staff retention is low in the ‘Big Four’ after qualification, which is partially down to listening to the employees aspirations and aligning them with the firm.
Some employees desire a different career path from audit, which is harder to facilitate. For others, having that honest career conversation at an early stage allows the line manager (Counsellor being EY’s internal name) to plan their next few years and provide interesting opportunities to help retain staff.
Being a recent ‘counsellor’ has enabled me to have these informal catch-ups with my ‘counselees’, allowing me to identify their keen interests in data analytics and robotics. Being previously unaware, I then managed to put them in touch with the relevant advisory team and data analytics champions who were able to provide them with more interesting internal projects.
Another working example is listening to those more senior than you and what they consider to be the priorities or taking on board any advice they have to offer. Internal progression at EY tends to be based on an ‘expectation’ for your grade. In order to progress or be promoted, you have to evidence you are exceeding the expectations for that given peer group and already performing at the next level. Setting these expectations with the managers and partners has enabled me to define and execute how I will evidence performing over and above this expectation.