The ABCs of supervision: technical skills are only half the story.

Author:Satava, David

Do you remember your first major accounting job? Did your supervisor hand you some accounting workpapers and say, "Here, do this," and then quickly walk away? We remember looking at several printouts,, wondering if we had made a mistake in choosing accounting as a career. What we wanted and needed was a supervisor who was skilled at managing employees, especially new employees, and who could relate and explain things so we could understand our jobs better. Unfortunately, many talented professionals concentrate so much on developing their technical skills that they do not spend enough time and effort developing an understanding of how to treat and manage people.

According to Source Finance (a financial and accounting personnel company), only about 2% of accounting professionals ever become partners in CPA firms. While technical skills are vital in the early stages of a career, they are not the primary requirements for promotion to higher level positions. In order to become a manager, a professional must develop the ability to communicate, organize, motivate and direct the efforts of others. In order to advance to partner, a professional must develop strong supervisory and management skills. A lack of interpersonal skills may be a major reason why many qualified professionals are not promoted to partner.


This article is directed to CPAs who seriously want to improve their chances for promotion by learning a caring and practical approach to supervision. The following list of the ABCs of basic supervision--targeted at new and seasoned supervisors willing to reevaluate their leadership styles--is a primer on the basics of good supervision along with tips that should help CPAs improve their interpersonal relations with staff members. These ABCs should provide a solid basis for motivating and leading subordinates to become successful professionals.

Accessibility. Do you have an open-door policy? Are you available and supportive? If not, why are you there? Allocate extra time for employees to ask questions when you give them a new assignment. In the long run, this will reduce the total amount of time you will have to spend explaining later and will help your subordinates do their work on time.

Big picture. Successful supervisors provide their employees with an overall view of the entire engagement early in the assignment. This helps staff members understand their jobs better, both generally and in relation to the current assignment.

Communications. Staff members can't read your mind. When in doubt, give too much information rather than too little. Instead of giving all of the instructions at one time though, consider breaking the instructions into small components. Informed employees should make better decisions than those who are uninformed. Encourage staff to converse with you; one of their ideas could dramatically increase productivity.

Dignity. One partner tells his staff to "dignify" everybody they come in contact with. Honor and treat others with respect. Remember the adage: praise publicly and criticize privately.

Enthusiasm. Staff members seldom get more involved in their jobs than their supervisors do. If you are negative about your job, expect your staff to show...

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