There are many articles listing out which soft skills accountants need to develop in order to thrive in their career, or to get promoted.

What is hardly mentioned anywhere is HOW to develop those soft skills.

Recruitment consultants will say you need to provide evidence of having them. And employers will say you need them to perform well or to get promoted.

But very little is said about how to practically develop your soft skills.

Particularly for accountants, there is a specific mix of soft skills to prioritise. They also apply in particular ways for accountants which are important to consider.

Career progression

As accountants we are encouraged to develop our technical skills – there are always new things to learn and you can become more and more specialist.

For example, gaining tax qualifications or internal audit.

You either have the required technical skills and qualifications for the job or you don’t.

So, let’s assume that you meet the technical requirements already. You’ve got the necessary qualifications.

Now you need to develop your soft skills. But how?

Why are soft skills important?

Firstly, why be concerned about soft skills if you have the technical skills?

Because it is the soft skills that people notice when thinking about promoting someone.


Because these are the only differentiating factors!

If everyone has got the same technical qualifications, how to choose between candidates?

Their soft skills. These are the only differentiating factors.

So how to develop them?

We think there are three ways:

  • In the workplace
  • Training courses
  • Development programmes

Let’s look at each one in turn.

In the workplace

Most people learn soft skills at “the school of hard knocks”. Meaning by trial and error in the workplace.

This typically involves following your instinct and being puzzled when things don’t work as expected!

A more sophisticated approach is to observe what others do and copying them.

Whilst modelling their behaviour sounds like a good idea in theory, in practice there may be no-one else quite doing what you’re doing. Or they are such a different personality that what works for them doesn’t feel right for you.

You will also be falling in to the trap of assuming that they are doing it well! Instead you may just be learning their bad habits, knowing no better.

At best you learn how to do it their way, but never quite working out how to do it your way. This is basically working out what works and doesn’t work the slow and painful way!

Another problem with this approach is that you usually only work out what works in today’s situation.

You have no theoretical framework, concepts or tools to use in a the future.

You learn piecemeal.

Training courses

You may be part of a company that offers soft skills training. Maybe some workshops on presentation skills.

These can be very helpful, as far as they go.

However, there are two problems with training courses:

  • The half-life of knowledge – training courses can often give quite a poor return on investment. Knowledge understood on the day is misremembered within a few days, misunderstood when recalled or forgotten completely within a few weeks! They also tend to focus on learning knowledge rather than developing skills.
  • Cherry-picking – employers pick certain only soft skills topics to provide training on. You are therefore getting trained on what is helpful for them, not what is helpful to you. If they want their staff to make effective presentations, they commission some presentations skills training. They are less likely to invest in you for the long-term future. In short, they are looking for a return on investment for them, not a return on investment for you. It’s great if they coincide, but they probably won’t!

The solutions are:

  • Spaced repetition – keep revisiting the learning materials so that you remember them and can put them into action.
  • Learn your way – find a way of learning and developing your skills in a way that works for you and is effective. This could be through online learning, books or with a personal tutor.
  • Learn what you need – the skills you need to develop depend upon where you want to go with your career. There are some skills that you need for your role that have a return on investment for you in the medium term, but not necessarily for your employer in the short term.

Development programs

Soft skills development programs are very different from learning on the job or via training courses. The clue is in the title – development.

Development is about you developing your way of doing things, guided and informed by tried, tested and proven approaches, theories, techniques, models and frameworks.

You then try out the ones that feel right for you in real life, understanding at a deeper level what they are trying to achieve.

This is much more sophisticated than just trying to find something that works in the current situation.

A development program takes a longer-term view.

As a result, you will end up with a suite of skills and approaches, informed by experience. You will have  conceptual models and theoretical frameworks that you can apply in a variety of circumstances and refine over time to create your own distinctive approach.

These development programme approaches take the best of the previous two options and enhance them with strucuted personal reflection and support.

This means that you:

  • Learn some concepts, tools and technciques
  • Apply them in real life, experiment, trial and error
  • Reflect on the experience, gain feedback and consider options
  • Revise your approach – gain deeper understanding

Thi approach includes the key elements of:

  • learning concepts
  • spaced repetition
  • practical application
  • experimentation / trial and error
  • reflection and review

There are two ways that a development programme can work:

  • personal coaching / mentoring programmes or
  • blended programmes.

Personal coaching / mentoring programs

Personal coaching is the gold standard.

You get personal support from a coach or mentor who can give you independent and confidential support with a soft skills development programme completely tailored to your needs over a period of months so that you can develop the skills you need.

This is of course a relatively expensive option and is usually reserved for senior staff.

It is often called executive coaching or mentoring.

If this is the service you would like then click here to enquire.

Blended programmes

For most people, blended programmes are the best value as they balance cost and effectiveness.

A blend between learning concepts and techniques via online learning modules, coupled with support and coaching sessions where you can reflect on your experiences, ask questions and get support.

These can be either one-to-one sessions or group coaching sessions to make it as cost effective as possible.

Our soft skills development programmes are blended programmes.

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