From Manager to Strategist: Moving Forward as CFO

Managing the money is an important task, but the CFO can be far more than just the one who handles the abacus. Becoming a strategizer, an integral component of the company’s vision and one of the guiding hands to steer it toward that future, is well within the realm of CFOs today. In many firms, this visionary evolution is not only a way forward for CFOs but a necessary change for the organization itself; with smaller staffs and more business going to mid-size and small businesses, C-level executives must be multi-taskers. Finance directors who can play a vital strategic role help their organizations become leaner and more responsive.


Working with the Team

One of the greatest challenges keeping CFOs from participating more fully as strategists rather than logisticians is their relative isolation. In companies that silo C-level executives, strategic roles typically go to the CEO and company ownership. While that model provides unified leadership, it often lacks the depth and variety of more collaborative strategizing. Becoming more directly involved with the company’s success by sitting in on strategy meetings, working with other department heads, and working in teams that take joint responsibility for meeting financial goals will place you squarely among the decision-makers.

In most firms, this greater involvement at the strategic level is a welcome change. When finance officers work more closely with business leaders and help foster change guided by insight into the organization’s financial health, every side benefits. Few people understand the need for compliance, risk management and contingency plans more thoroughly than CFOs. When you act as a leader and not solely as a steward for your company’s revenue, you bring that expertise to the table. More than half of business owners agree, with 56 percent reporting that they want their CFO to take a more strategic role and 40 percent seeking a CFO who is able to catalyze growth.

To adopt this new role, you may need to delegate more than you previously have. Your time as a strategist is highly valuable, and activities that used to be a part of your duties may need to be rerouted. For very small firms that have few personnel in the finance office, that could mean hiring an office administrator or accounting assistant. For other companies, it may mean outsourcing routine tasks such as payroll preparation.


Changing with the Times

The only constant in today’s business climate is change. CFOs must likewise be ready to change with the times to adapt to a more strategic role. For many finance officers, that means an active rewriting of job descriptions and organizational hierarchies. You may have different people reporting to you, and you might be expected to participate in planning sessions with a wider range of departments within your organization. Working with your CIO to develop budget forecasts, with HR on benefits packages and with marketing on revenue-building is something you likely do already, but as a strategist, you’re redefining your role with your co-leaders.

If your company isn’t already proactive in involving you as a strategist, it may be time to take the initiative. That’s sometimes a challenge for those CFOs who have typically followed CEOs’ directives in a top-down leadership model, but it’s well worth the effort to have a voice in the direction of your organization.

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