Moving from Financial Controller to Finance Director – Skills and Attributes

November 22nd 2023 | Posted by Phil Scott

The current climate makes it a difficult time to move from the role of a financial controller to that of a finance director (FD).

Any professional choosing to advance their career by making the move is faced with challenges including navigating the digital landscape and taking a lead role in business strategic planning.

These challenges come at a time when many businesses are encountering financial uncertainties. So, there is a lot of pressure for financial controllers moving to an FD role to make a good first impression and hit the ground running. There are several skills and attributes essential to making this happen.

A strategic approach

Traditionally, FDs were all about the numbers. Today, both FDs and chief financial officers (CFOs) are more involved with the strategic direction of the business. So, having business acumen is essential for financial controllers wanting to progress up the career ladder. This ability allows them to work closely with the chief executive officer (CEO), providing the financial insights to ensure successful strategic planning for the organisation.

Leadership abilities

Leadership skills are often not a natural ability that individuals have. So, financial controllers must develop their leadership abilities if they wish to become an FD. Individuals interviewing for an FD role will normally be asked questions about their leadership style and leadership lessons they have learned. They are expected to show an understanding of effective leadership and show that they can develop people. This includes insights into how delegation works as being able to delegate well is essential for FDs who have strategic business matters to attend to.

The ability to communicate

When compared to financial controllers, FDs are less about producing reports about the numbers and more about communicating about them. A professional who secures an FD role is expected to tell the story behind the figures and enable the CEO and other board members to understand what they mean. Many of these board members may not have a deep understanding of numbers, so clear communication is an essential skill for FDs to have. Therefore, anyone who is moving from working as a financial controller to becoming an FD must develop their abilities in this area and prove they can communicate at all levels of the organisation.

The FD role is more complex today than ever. Professionals at this level need to have a deeper ability than just financial skills. They work closely with the CEO to lead the business forward by providing strategic financial insights. This work involves communicating with executives at board level and giving them an understanding of the story behind the numbers. In order to operate at this strategic level, FDs have strong delegation skills that allow them to develop their team so they can concentrate on using their abilities to lead the business forward.

It’s clear that taking the path from financial controller to FD is difficult but rewarding. Anyone who wants to succeed in navigating this path must be a good leader, strategically minded, and have excellent communication abilities.

If you are a Finance Director or CFO looking for a new role, register with us. If you are an employer looking to hire an FD or CFO for your leadership team, contact us.