16 Different Skills You'll Need to Develop to Become a Successful CMA (Certified Management Accountant)

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Success as a CMA isn’t easy to achieve and requires a number of skills and attributes to be developed and maintained over the course of a long career. Here’s a look at what the payoff will be once you’ve achieved this status, and what abilities you’ll have to foster to get there.

How much do CMAs get paid?

The salary of a certified management accountant differs depending on the type of role they fulfill. Bear in mind that this type of certification can take you in various professional directions.

For instance, a senior accountant with CMA credentials can expect to receive an average salary of around $71,000. For finance directors this steps up to $126,000 while for chief financial officers this hits $151,000.

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What skills are most important for CMAs?

The list of capabilities which will help you make your way in the world as a CMA is sizable, and includes elements such as:

Accounting

It should go without saying, but CMAs have to be masters of the fundamentals of accounting. Being able to balance the books of a business, and understanding the ins and outs of taxation as they apply in this context, is a must.

Communication

It’s often the job of CMAs to take complex finance-related ideas and make them comprehensible to people in other departments of an organization who might not have the same training and expertise.

More broadly speaking, communication skills are vital for anyone with a management position, which of course covers many professionals who have this certification and have since climbed higher up the corporate ladder.

Leadership

The qualities of an effective leader are many and varied. They need to be confident, inspirational, accountable and transparent, among other things.

CMAs should pursue all of these traits and more, in recognition that they’ll need to take the reins rather than sitting back and letting someone else shoulder the responsibility.

Risk management

Assessing and accounting for financial risks that face a business falls well within the purview of a CMA. You’ll be expected to navigate rough waters and plan ahead to avert disasters that could strike.

Problem solving

Another widely applicable skill which must be in the toolkit of successful CMAs, problem solving covers the ability to battle all manner of conundrums, with creative thinking and persistence being important.

Attention to detail

Seeing the bigger picture as a CMA is clearly useful, but you also have to be able to drill down into the tiny details and be on the ball when it comes to spotting errors and issues that others might miss.

Focus

While there is a degree to which accountants must perform granular tasks, more often it’s necessary to remain focused on a single duty for extended periods. Having the patience to see this through is not just something which comes innately, but is a skill that can be developed through practice, as well as by adopting good habits and eliminating distractions.

Dedication

This isn’t a job you can do if you’re only casually interested in the processes and working practices. You have to be passionate about accounting and finance, and have a strong work ethic to back up your convictions.

Self-improvement

While you can tread water in any profession, to be a success as a CMA it’s crucial to always be looking for opportunities to build upon your skills and learn new ones.

This means mixing on-the-job training with extracurricular efforts that you follow through on in your own time.

Writing

Earlier we discussed communication as a skill for CMAs, and this isn’t just relevant for verbal interactions, but also covers a mastery of the written word as well. 

Most significantly, you’ll often be tasked with putting together documentation to cover procedures and practices within an organization. This has to be done with clarity and precision, as well as with panache. So it’s not just about dealing with numbers, but also expressing yourself efficiently on the page.

Mentoring

At some point you’ll need to steward more junior team members so that they can learn the ins and outs of the job and unleash their potential. Being a good mentor isn’t always something that comes naturally, so working on your people skills will feed into this growth within your roles as well.

Flexibility

You can’t afford to be too rigid in your thinking, because what’s expected of CMAs is often changing, whether as a result of internal decisions or external regulatory shifts.

There’s also the role that technology has to play in mixing things up, so your adaptability will assure you a place in the world of accounting as time moves on and fresh solutions are introduced.

Planning

Formulating plans and putting them into action will mark you out as a strong candidate in any accounting position.

CMAs often take a more hands-on role in the various stages of major projects, and it’s not just about plotting out the steps to take, but also analyzing the fallout of the decisions that have been made earlier to determine their effect.

Ethics

It’s possible to perceive accounting and business operations as being separate from ethical concerns in many cases. However, societal norms are changing and organizations cannot afford to ignore the pressures that are being placed on customer spending.

Thus CMAs are increasingly required to have a handle on the sustainability of initiatives they oversee, and be tuned into the collective conscience of the audience they’re targeting.

Computer literacy

This is a skill that’s easy to overlook or to assume that you have, yet one which could be a deal-breaker if it’s not up to scratch.

Familiarity and confidence with computer systems and the types of software which accountants use day to day is vital. Even if you prefer old-school methods, or you have your own set way of doing things, you must be proficient in the areas that would-be employers require of CMAs.

Personal presentation

The trustworthiness and reputation of a CMA is partly conveyed by how they dress, their personal hygiene and how they comport themselves in a professional environment.

Being well-presented at all times, and maintaining a consistent level of behavior as well, will make a big difference to how you are perceived, regardless of your other skills and achievements.

The bottom line

Developing all of these skills and refining them over the course of your career will make you a stand-out CMA. And of course they are also possible to transfer to any other role you might choose in the future, regardless of whether or not it’s in accounting.

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