Why accountants make great project managers

It has been well publicised and discussed that the role of an accountant is ever changing.

Just as the accounting profession have found themselves forced to work flexibly in dynamic business environments, with increasing automation and systems reliance, we are also seeing a shift in the skill sets demanded of project managers. Increasingly, rather than generalists, projects managers are being asked to be business managers; skilled in financial controls, data management and process improvement. As a result, we have seen a significant shift in the market demanding project managers who are either qualified accountants or other specialist such as Lean-Six Sigma.

So, should accountants make the choice to enter project management to further their career into operational management?

My own experience is that yes, these candidates are very much in demand in today’s market for transformation and cost reduction programmes, SSC set up, systems implementation / migration and process improvement roles.

What makes accountants successful in project management?

  • Accountants have a technical understanding of budget and forecast management, with the ability to pre-empt risks at the start of a process. These risks may not have been otherwise highlighted, proving to be potential blockers further into the project lifecycle. This means costly issues can be avoided during the implementation.
  • Within a team, accountants can be viewed more like enablers and less like objectors with their stakeholder management skills. The ability to quickly drill down into the financials enables them to best assign resources, build a project plan and ensure timely delivery.
  • The ability to have an audit perspective and ask the right questions of the right people to ensure legal and statutory compliance for the business.
  • Do the numbers work? Great ideas do not always go hand in hand with profitability and cost effectiveness. If the benefits don’t justify the cost then the ability to flag this in a project at an early stage or steer the programme in a different direction is a valued skill.
  • Deadline management; accountants working to a monthly / yearly timetable have an intrinsic grounding which mirrors that of a project lifecycle. The ability to absorb and plan for workload spikes which will occur in any project, will minimise the risk of backtracking and tardy deliverables.
  • Systems exposure – systems are at the heart of any transformation programme and accountants who have used ERP packages, reporting systems and data tools have the end user experience to provide a great platform to work from. They have the experience to be able link the project to and communicate with finance, IT or the wider business. Any system in any business will always weave back into the finance function.
  • Who owns a project? Ultimately CFOs have the sign off based on affordability and benefits case. With a project experienced accountant on board, any programme can gain instant credibility.  Finance staff often have a broad exposure to functional areas such as HR and Procurement so can often get a swift handle on their business needs.

Figures estimating that 160,000 project management roles are to be created over the next decade in the UK show the growth is set to continue.

New PMOs within a variety of sectors are being formed, creating permanent job flow. The trend to the formation of “centres of excellence” and companywide transformation programmes continue to keep the interim market healthy. 30% of project business cases fail to deliver on their objectives which could be significantly improved by using the financial planning skills of an accountant.  If you have been thinking of a move into project management or would like to gain more understanding of the market please do contact Clare Wright at cwright@axonmoore.com or on 07741 905803