Forging Strong Leaders: The Crucial Role of CPD (Continuing Professional Development) for Accountants

Author: Bo Fitzpatrick | Date: July 18, 2023

Accounting firms have traditionally directed their training initiatives towards accountants in the early stages of their careers. During the first 3-5 years of a professional’s tenure with a firm, the coursework offered primarily centers around cultivating the fundamental technical competencies in advisory, accounting and taxation. This emphasis on core skills equips employees to become more proficient business advisers. Where many firms eventually miss the mark is the point when an individual has “maxed out” their knowledge of fundamentals. At this point, many are left with catch-as-catch-can trainings on technical updates in new laws and accounting rules as well as other continuing professional education (CPE) courses they may pick up locally or at conferences. 

What firms often overlook is the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for accountants that can help to build the next generation of leaders in the business. For individuals who aspire to become future partners, it is crucial for accounting firms to proactively foster the development of leadership skills from an early stage. Identifying potential future partners and initiating their leadership development is of utmost importance. Alongside supervisory and managerial skills, it is essential to impart a consistent set of shared skills and values to these teams of emerging leaders. By doing so, the firm ensures these groups are capable of functioning together at a higher level, and the continuity and long-term success of the practice is assured when current leaders eventually transition out of their roles.

How CPD for Accountants Builds Leaders

An effective CPD curriculum is often as much about personal development as it is about professional development. As the workforce evolves, many younger staffers who initially choose accounting as a career step away when they see the toll it is taking on the people who are leading their practices. So if I were to ask “How is your firm developing its leaders?” one of the best answers is to focus on this progression: 

  • Lead yourself.
  • Lead individuals under your supervision.
  • Lead the firm. 

To attract and retain talent in the current employment environment, firm leaders need to demonstrate that they know how to take care of themselves. Many of those who lead firms today were brought up in the practice very traditionally, where staff rose through the ranks in a sort of “survival of the fittest” model. Those who could commit fully to outsized demands on their time and energy advanced.

Sessions facilitated by 20-20 Services for partners and top-tier leaders of firms today prioritize the incorporation of self-care. These sessions serve as a model for individuals on the leadership track, demonstrating the importance of prioritizing mental and physical well-being. By emphasizing the significance of self-care, participants gain a deeper understanding of how taking better care of themselves positively impacts their own job performance, leadership abilities, and overall contribution to the firm’s long-term success.

To be clear, the intention is not to promote stepping back or ceasing hard work. Public Accounting is now and always will be a demanding professional service requiring extensive technical knowledge and exceptional client-relation skills. The goal is to make sure that leaders demonstrate to those throughout the firm that the path isn’t just to give up 20 years of your life for a significant payout as a partner, but to find ways to support improved work-life balance practices compared to what has been available at some firms in the past. 

The Questions Firms Should Be Asking About Future Leadership Plans

What is the firm’s strategic plan for CPD for accountants? Equipping your future leadership team with the skills they need to run the firm goes beyond what they’ll learn on-the-job, or gain through individual coaching and mentoring. Begin by answering the following:

  • Have we identified our future leaders? Most firms have some idea of who is on track to lead, but if you’re at a firm that hasn’t formalized this initial step you should start working on this process as soon as possible. 
  • How and when are we developing those leaders? Many firms have taken the approach that leadership training and the focus on personal professional development that it entails are investments they will make in individuals once they make it to the partner level. In fact, these types of trainings should begin once staffers have distinguished themselves in a manner that puts them on a partnership track. The progress in these trainings can provide helpful insights into the types of leaders they will be if the firm should offer them partnership – in the future. 
  • What are we doing to keep these future leaders? In today’s competitive employment environment, it’s critical to take steps to keep your top stars in the fold. These leadership trainings can be part of the process of showing your future executives how much the firm values their contributions and how much the current partners are willing to invest to develop them into the leaders of tomorrow. Training teams also provides a pool of talent to be able to rely on rather than focusing on any single individual.

Solutions Are as Unique as Each Firm

CPD for accountants, especially leadership training, needs to be as unique as each firm and individual who participates. At 20-20 Services, we create customized training curriculums that meet you where you are and take you into the future—taking into account your firm’s existing culture and the individual personalities of the people you are trying to develop. Our leadership programs focus on the following key areas: 

  • Implementing a robust leadership development program
  • Facilitating transparent and efficient succession planning
  • Fostering the development of collaborative leadership teams
  • Cultivating a culture that promotes growth and innovation
  • Equipping leaders with emotional intelligence skills

To learn more about how we can help your firm grow its next generation of leaders, contact us today.

Picture of Bo Fitzpatrick

Bo Fitzpatrick

Bo Fitzpatrick, CPA is a seasoned professional with over 30 years of experience in and around the public accounting profession, both in practice and as a consultant. Prior to rejoining 20-20 Services, from June 2018 through December 2022 he was the managing

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