For anyone on the journey to becoming a CMA, the logistics around getting the certification may be top of mind. But being a CMA involves so much more than just technical skills. Sure, the best CMAs are competent accountants, but they are also masters of another critical skill: leadership.
If you’re surprised to read that, don’t worry! You’re not alone. Let’s talk about the importance of leadership abilities as a CMA and how you can develop effective skills that will support you in your career.
Why Leadership Is Important
Walk into any boardroom, office, or startup and you’ll find out pretty fast who the leader is. Leadership isn’t about a title; it’s about influence. And when you develop the ability to influence others, you’re well on your way to being an effective leader.
In all facets of personal and professional life, leadership skills are respected and admired. Luckily, leadership skills are also transferable. If you develop leadership skills in one area of your life, you’ll be able to apply them to other areas as well.
CMA professionals — who often land in roles like CFO or Corporate Controller — exercise leadership skills to communicate effectively, relate to others, and motivate teams to crush goals.
Leaders in every organization have an immense responsibility for their team members. As a leader, you guide the direction of a company and every individual who’s in it. Big responsibility. But also game-changing… if you do it right.
In addition to the cultural/social benefits of developing leadership skills, there are financial ones. Studies have found that people with great leadership skills are likely to earn more money. One key difference between a CPA and CMA, or a CMA and various other professional designations, is the leadership component. The managerial and leadership understanding of a CMA is reflected in a higher income as well as taking a seat in the C-suite and other positions of authority.
Bottom line: leadership skills are important. So what exactly are leadership skills? And how can you start developing them now?
Leadership Traits That Will Help You in Your Career as a CMA
Since leadership is a critical skill for accounting and finance professionals who want to earn a CMA, it’s important to develop the following skills early in your career.
Be a Motivator
The ability to motivate a team is a crucial skill for leadership professionals. Management accountants need to know how to best motivate their employees to reach the company’s goals. I’m referring to positions such as CFOs, Controllers, Accounting Managers, you name it.
If you want to improve people’s motivation, start by fostering a culture of gratitude. Display the behavior you want to see. Share gratitude for your employees regularly and reflexively. It will remind them that their role is valuable.
Understanding how to motivate others will ultimately support your success because it will help you learn your people. What drives them and makes them tick? Those are the motivating factors that you can tap into. Once you discover how to motivate your employees as individuals, you’ll be able to foster a powerhouse team that tackles challenges and overcomes obstacles.
Communication skills are about more than just expressing your thoughts and ideas. Leaders must be listeners. It’s the only way to really know your people, to keep a finger on the pulse of culture shifts and concerns, and to be proactively engaged in advancing goals.
Active listening can improve every interaction you have with a team member. It is a key part of skilled leadership and coaching.
Do your listening skills need work? To become a better listener, choose to believe that every person you meet has the potential to teach you something.
This mindset will transform your interactions with your team. With well-developed active listening skills, you can encourage your team to come to you with new ideas, innovate, and support your own business goals.
Inspire Your People
When you manage people, they look to you for authority and direction. Inspiring others means leading by example.
The ability to inspire may seem similar to motivation, but there are a few key differences. A CMA’s ability to inspire means they can get their team invested in the success of the company. They create a fulfilling and exciting work environment. When they establish goals, they illustrate their importance, not only to the company but for the greater good.
Motivation can grow from inspiration, but not the other way around. Inspiration must come from the leader of a team or organization. Never underestimate a leader who has a fantastic ability to inspire others. They are the ones who lead teams to do world-changing work.
Cast a Creative Vision
Creativity in leadership is a critically undervalued skill. Creativity is the ability to make something new, and CMAs can do this through leadership in multiple ways.
CMAs may develop innovative ways of budgeting, new profit-sharing initiatives, or workflows that endure disruptions such as labor shortages and hybrid work arrangements.
The greatest leaders in the world are visionaries who can think outside the box. Embrace opportunities to be creative in all facets of your leadership.
Manage With Purpose
Organization, delegation, decision-making, and communication are all essential management skills. These will be especially important in your career as a CMA.
Team sports, clubs, professional groups, and even managing virtual working groups are great ways to develop these fundamental leadership skills. You can start developing purposeful management skills in any context. Once you have a solid foundation, it should be easy for you to learn how to continuously improve purpose-driven management and coaching.
Foster Team Spirit
A leader’s ability to sense someone’s potential and draw out the best in them is key to creating teams that support each other’s strengths.
Team building is about more than just planning, budgeting, and hiring. Once your team is formed, it’s about cultivating an environment that encourages everyone to care about each other’s success.
Great leaders highlight and support the strengths of each team member and encourage the entire team to do the same. This will ensure your team looks out for each other and functions as a unit.
Lead With Empathy
The last, and arguably most important, skill leaders develop that helps them with their careers is empathy. In every area of your professional life, you will benefit from practicing empathy.
Empathy is a key part of your emotional intelligence. Studies have shown that leaders with a high emotional quotient score (EQ) can make a broader impact that yields positive results.
Leaders who possess an abundance of empathy have stronger relationships and can motivate and inspire others. They have superior management abilities, more freedom for creative collaboration, and the trust of their team.
Maximize Your Leadership Potential by Becoming a CMA
If you demonstrate all the characteristics on this list, congratulations! You are an excellent leader with amazing potential to affect real change in your organization as a CMA and accounting leader.
Feel like you’re great in some of these areas and weak in others? Most of us are.
Remember: anyone can become a great leader.
If you’re in the process of earning a CMA certification, I know you have ambition, which is a great place to start.
At CMA Exam Academy, I like to focus on the life skills and technical skills that coalesce to make great CMAs. For those of you in the exam prep process, check out our CMA review course.