At Work: Finance and IT - Career development - Give expression to your inner Picasso

Why is it that there seem to be more chief executives who are good at finance than there are finance directors who are good at being chief executives?

I should begin by saying that I am blessed with a financially literate chief executive, which makes life much easier for me than it is for others. I frequently ask finance directors whether their chief executives are good financially. Generally, the answer is "yes".

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by this. (But why is it that chief executives so often have a low level of IT skills compared with finance directors?) Yet time after time I hear of charity finance directors who want to be chief executives but who find it almost impossible to make the move.

I can see no logical reason why finance directors shouldn't have the necessary skills. They have an overview of entire organisations; they are focused on delivery of plans; they need to build good relationships with a wide range of stakeholders; and they need to juggle priorities and manage risks. But then I wonder if they come across as lacking spontaneity, an appetite for risk and the type of innovative and creative minds that are often prized in chief executives.

I think there is a split personality within many finance directors, something that is hinted at in the debate about whether accountancy is an art or a science. To be a good finance director, you need to be creative and capable of lateral thinking, yet for much of the time we are thought of more as science geeks than Picassos.

There is an element of self-fulfilling prophecy in this, in that if we are constantly relied upon to be the reliable 'downside-risk highlighters' in organisations, we can easily end up being seen as the resident party poopers. And who wants a party pooper leading their organisation?

I can't help feeling that if finance directors were to let their naturally artistic sides flourish, they would be more likely to get shortlisted. They should be more willing to have the balls to say "sod the accounts deadline, I've just had a new innovative idea that I want to bounce off a few stakeholders". Accountancy may be 80 per cent science, but being a finance director is 80 per cent art. It's just that much of it is hidden under the sheets with a torch rather than placed centre stage.

Helen Verney is finance director of Jewish Care.

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