CA preparation for people management: From technical to leadership

Team brainstorming in meeting test
Chris Sheedy By Chris Sheedy, CA Today

5 June 2018

Most accountants will one day move from technical work to managing people. How do you make a smooth transition?

Research tells us that many professionals in various fields, including accounting, don’t particularly want to move into management.

They’re happy to be talented, respected technicians and do not look forward to the many added pressures and expectations that are part of the daily work life of those who manage people.

This is a problem on multiple levels - it not only says that individuals feel ill-prepared for roles they will likely move into, but also that businesses are not training their staff for what is a natural progression of talent.

Dr Samantha Johnson, a lecturer in Public Sector Leadership and Public Service Research Group researcher at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, has spent much of her non-academic career helping middle managers to boost their people-management skills.

Most of those she has worked with were promoted thanks to their technical skills, she said, but into management positions. As a result, they were completely unprepared for the problems and demands that come with the management of human beings.

What businesses can do

“The careers of talented people force them into management - there’s often no other way to go,” said Dr Johnson. “It just becomes part of the reality of the job. But there doesn't seem to be much preparation for it from a career perspective or from a support perspective.

“To actually acknowledge that - to ask how a business goes about supporting people heading into a management role - is very important. Trepidation, disappointment, concern etc., must be recognised, respected and dealt with.

“Businesses talk about strategic HR management, but they’re often not very good at it. They promote people up into management jobs without thinking about capability development. That development has to come earlier.”

If you have poor management practices, they become the behavioural norms for everybody. Poor management is self-perpetuating.

A lack of management training can lead to far greater problems in the future, long after the inexperienced managers have left, Dr Johnson explained.

We all learn through observation and modelling, or ‘social learning’. We watch what people are doing around us in order to recognise what seems to be successful, acceptable behavioural norms. Then we automatically copy those behaviours.

“It's part of human nature,” she said. “So, if you've got poor management practices, they are going to become the behavioural norms for everybody. Poor management is self-perpetuating.”

Remedies that can be applied

Provide management training long before talented people are due to step into roles as managers, advised Dr Johnson, in order to recognise, accept and remedy the trepidation felt by potential managers.

Just as importantly, organisations should provide positive role models and make them highly visible.

“These good management role models must go out of their way to explicitly show the way they manage with good people skills, good leadership, good communication and strong interpersonal skills,” she said.

“Those people are hidden in the organisation somewhere. Get them out, make them more visible and train them to recognise how they can role model the behaviours that an organisation wants to have as the norm.”

What individuals can do

Businesses can do more to prepare themselves for the rigours of people management, and so can individuals.

Each of us adapts our behaviour to the role that we’re playing, explained Dr Johnson. Hence, we act differently when we’re at home with our children, compared to the way we behave at the bar with our friends, which is different to the way we behave in the office.

Take this one step further and consciously accept that you’ll go through a mindset change, and therefore a behavioural change, once you’re managing staff, she recommended.

“It’s about recognising that the way you behave in an operational role is not the same way that you will behave in a management role,” Dr Johnson said.

A mentor must be somebody you’re comfortable with, a person who matches up with you on an interpersonal level.

“This change will in no way detract from your authenticity - it is just an adaptation of you. But this is important because it’s not just a different role with new tasks and a larger office; it’s a different set of behaviours expected from you.”

She suggests that individuals make the effort to find a mentor. It must be somebody you’re comfortable with, a person who matches up with you on an interpersonal level.

Of course, it should also be a person who is an excellent example of good management. In fact, feel free to find several mentors, perhaps for different specific purposes.

That way you are role modelling great behaviour for future managers by demonstrating that mentoring is acceptable and beneficial.

“There has been some interesting research looking at effective mentoring programs,” she said. “The outcomes of that research suggest that the most effective mentoring relationships happen when you have a matching personality.

“Sometimes organisations will deliberately put very different people together, thinking that’s where they’ll get benefits. But it doesn’t work that way. You need the connection of a similar mindset and a similar approach.”

About the author

Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning HeraldVirgin Australia VoyeurThe Australian MagazineGQIn The BlackCadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.


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