How to Become a Strategic CFO

businessman leading meeting strategic cfo

In recent years, the role of the CFO of an organization has shifted from a focus on finance-only tasks to a broader scope of responsibilities and challenges. CFOs are now major influencers in moving the business forward by managing strategic initiatives that span all departments. To remain a necessary, beneficial part of the executive team, you must take certain steps to transition your role from number cruncher to a strategic adviser. Here’s how to become a strategic CFO in your organization.

Delegate your workload

In a growing business, learning to delegate financial reporting to your accounting team early on is critical to your success as a strategic CFO. It frees up your time to work on more focused initiatives that ultimately shape the path of your business. Instead of spending time doing the routine tasks, spend your time analyzing how the financial systems in place are working toward the organization’s goals and develop solutions to make those processes more efficient.

Fine-tune your communication skills

As CFO, one of the most important responsibilities you have is to communicate the financial health of your business in a clear, concise way. You may be a whiz with financial software behind the scenes, but unless you have the ability to share that data effectively, you’re missing the mark as a strategic adviser. A strategic CFO is able to present pertinent business information not only to other C-level executives within the business, but also to stakeholders, investors, and employees. Take time to hone in your communication skills, including how you speak—and listen—to those around you.

Broaden your scope

The majority of individuals who achieve the role of CFO are naturally analytical and justifiably focused on the financial path of the business. While helpful, a strategic CFO understands and communicates how the financial backbone of the company works to catapult the entire business forward. This takes a curious mind and a passion for finding the right solutions. More often than not, expanding your understanding of the business and its processes requires spending time with the employees and leaders who make each department or product line run. If processes seem to be falling short or the financial reports aren’t indicating growth, you, as a strategic CFO, should be able to speak to the problem intelligently and bring a possible solution to the table.

Have plan B (and C) ready

Part of being a strategic adviser to the CEO and other executives within your business is anchored in your ability to course correct when it is needed. If you’ve done the necessary work to develop and implement a project within the company and it isn’t providing the intended return or outcome, employees, management, and your fellow executives will be looking to you for a sound resolution. Strategic CFOs aren’t afraid to have a plan B ready to go, and they aren’t shy about executing it when it is needed

Think like a strategic adviser

Strategic CFOs work hard to steer business innovation and guide transformation; that process begins with training the brain to think like an adviser, not just a number cruncher. One of the ways to think like a strategic adviser is to give consideration to how your business will lead an industry instead of simply following the well-worn path made by competitors. Is there a disruptive technology aspect you can add to the business or its processes to streamline operations and potentially cut costs? Is there an investment that carries some risk but has the potential to propel the business to another level? Brainstorming these big picture characteristics of the business helps secure your place as a strategic CFO.

Final thoughts

The CFO role requires someone who is willing to think and act outside the box in order to have a true impact on a business. To solidify your position as a crucial part of the executive team, know what work warrants your time and what can be delegated, and keep your communication skills at their best. Put in the effort to fully understand your business, the circumstances that affect your industry, and ways to keep a step or two ahead of your competitors. Finally, don’t be afraid to take some calculated risks to move your business in the right direction.

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