Could ‘soft skills’ be the key to better expense management?

It’s a term which many not sit comfortably within the numbers based realm of a finance team but could ‘soft skills’ be the key to better expense management?

With the changing role of accountancy within the business world, should finance directors now be looking to develop their teams ‘people’ skills?

It’s an an idea championed in the past by Harvard Business School professor, David Maister, who views soft skills as being an essential part of effective financial management.

He believes that developing employees’ ‘emotional intelligence’ helps to improve their ability to listen, to understand and influence co-workers - leading to more effective and profitable organisations.

These ideas have led to the growth of an industry dedicated to training soft skills with workshops and roleplaying exercises being used to help improve interpersonal skills and the ability to ‘read’ behaviour.

The growing importance of these skills is shown by a 2013 survey by Accountemps which found that one-in-five finance directors saw a need to improve their teams’ soft skills - more than double a previous 2008 poll.

Max Messmer, chairman of Accountemps, said:

“Accounting and finance professionals have gradually assumed increased visibility, expanded roles and greater influence within their firms over the past years, making soft skills an essential competency today.

“Providing employees with the tools to become better communicators, consensus builders and negotiators should be a priority for any organization.”

From an expense management perspective these skills could be used to help finance teams to look beyond the raw data and gain a better understanding of the human influences which affect claims.

This would fit with the changing role of accountancy within a business world which has less need for the traditional ‘number crunching’ tasks; many of which can now be automated or outsourced.

By using soft skills to help interpret data it could help finance teams to take on a more analytic and advisory role - identifying trends and predicting the outcomes of business decisions.

This allows finance teams to become much more integrated into the day-to-day running of a company - no longer hidden away in a back office. The soft skills would also prove vital when carrying out this more cooperative and communicative role.