Want to Become a Better Finance Director? Work on Your Storytelling.

Author:Francis, Charlie
Position:Management & Careers - Report

If you were asked to list the most common skills among finance directors, you'd likely respond with skills like accounting, mathematics, analysis, and budgeting. Storytelling probably wouldn't make the list.

And that's a shame, because the best finance directors are great storytellers. Most people focus on the basics of being a finance director: producing timely and accurate financial reports. That's extremely important, of course, but finance directors also have the potential to take on broder responsibilities --and gain greater influence. That's because, sooner or later, every municipal or agency plan, program, and goal always comes down to money.

One way to conceptualize the financial director's job is that this position is responsible for realizing the city council's vision. Instead of merely guarding the public purse, finance directors are responsible for unleashing the power of the public purse to maintain roads, ensure public safety, and create communities that are great to live and work in. And finance director's responsibilities broaden, as does their influence, when they're better storytellers.


During the 2008 Great Recession, when most governments in California were having their bond ratings downgraded, I shared stories and anecdotes with my rating agency about how my government's revenue enhancements and cost-cutting measures were performing. The stories showcased how real people were being saved by the valiant efforts of our firefighters and police officers; how our tourists didn't mind paying another half-cent sales tax for purchasing a souvenir; and how new parking technology alerted a person in a nearby restaurant that their meter was about to expire. Then I tied the qualitative narratives back to the quantitative facts and figures. Finally, 1 proactively and assertively told them why I expected an uptick, and not a downgrade. The result? An upgrade from an AA- to AA+.

Becoming a good storyteller clearly has benefits. While it may seem easier said than done, there is support out there that can help you improve your communication skills. It just requires a little effort.


The first step to becoming a better storyteller is joining your local Toastmasters club. (Information is available at toastmasters.org.) I joined my local club, and it was so helpful that I think it should be required training for all professionals. It teaches you how to become comfortable with public speaking...

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