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How CPAs can benefit from developing executive presence

Written on Oct 3, 2022
How CPAs Can Benefit From Developing Executive Presence

               (Austin Distel / unsplash)

For accounting professionals who want to advance their careers, it's crucial to develop an executive presence. Hypothetically speaking, two similar accountants could have the same technical skills, but the one with a sharper executive presence will have the upper hand in career advancement. 

Why executive presence matters

Developing executive presence is mutually beneficial for the accountant and the organization. The organization gains a quality team leader who positively engages with all members of their organization (from superiors to subordinates). 

In turn, the accounting or finance professional is perceived as more knowledgeable in their field and more trustworthy in leading a team. With that trust comes increased leadership opportunities, promotions and bonuses. 

Becoming a great leader

Great leaders aren’t always born that way. A naturally shy person can learn executive presence, too. By improving in three key areas (actions, appearance and communication), anyone can be a great leader with a tremendous executive presence. Even the best can continually find their weak spots and work on them. 

Actions and appearance

Find ways to build relationships. Networking is all about connecting with people. Attend as many organizational and professional events as possible to meet new people, work on your conversational skills and learn new things. 

Be mindful of nonverbal cues and communication. Looks and body language can tell a person a lot. Make sure you’re not saying the wrong thing. 

For example, leaders exude confidence, but poor posture gives the opposite impression. Keeping your spine straight and shoulders down and back will give the appearance of assurance. The people around you can’t help but trust your decision-making or analyses when you appear confident. 

Additionally, something as simple as uncrossing your arms can make you look more friendly and open to conversations and connections. Eye contact makes you appear actively engaged in what others are saying. You’ll appear honest and attentive instead of distracted. 



Top executives are looking for someone with the ability to speak in public when choosing leaders within their organizations. While natural for some, most people have to work on being comfortable in front of an audience. 

Look for more opportunities to practice. Speak up in meetings, especially if you have something significant to add or ask. Jump at the chance to lead a small team project where you’ll have to talk in front of a few co-workers. You’ll be able to master your skills as you work your way up to present in front of more and more people. 

Keep your audience in mind when developing what you’re going to say. For example, superiors are typically pressed for time and need you to keep it short and sweet. Give them the necessary actions with a brief explanation. Save the technicalities for your co-workers or subordinates. 

To keep from going off topic, always ask yourself, “So what?” What is the purpose of your communication? Are you trying to persuade? Are you giving instructions? Consider sharing the end first (actions you want your audience to take) and then jumping into the background and details. 

You don’t have to rely solely on yourself to boost your communication skills. Stand-out performers of any kind typically have coaches. Consider hiring a public speaking coach or joining a social club or organization designed to hone your skills. Practice will make your public speaking or interpersonal communications more effective and less nerve-racking. 


Good listening skills are just as essential as speaking skills. Know when to give others a chance to speak, especially in a small group setting. Listen attentively instead of trying to come up with what you’re going to say next. 

To be interesting, you must be interested. Show interest in what the speaker is saying by maintaining appropriate eye contact. Nod your head now and then (not too much), communicating understanding and connection with what’s being said. 


Emailing and texting are convenient but don’t think that your written communications don’t need just as much attention as your public speaking or listening skills. 

To check yourself, imagine your written communications getting into the wrong hands. Would you be embarrassed? 

It’s best to compose your message, take an eye break and return to it a few minutes later. Fix anything that could be lost in translation or embarrass you if read by a client, co-worker or superior. 

While it’s understandable that you might sometimes want to vent about someone you’re working with, it’s never advisable to do so with company property or on company time. Lastly, make sure you are sending it to the intended recipient. 

Bonus traits

Additionally, motivation and curiosity within your organization can set you apart from your co-workers. Find ways to dig deeper into your role and how it impacts other facets. Superiors will pull you into more leadership roles when they see your depth and breadth of knowledge. 

Collaborate with your peers. Good leaders can work well with others, especially with various personalities and learning styles. If your co-workers appear unresponsive to an action plan you gave, it could indicate a lack of understanding somewhere. Check with them for feedback and redefine any action steps as necessary. 

People skills for the win!

Your technical knowledge will take you far in your career, but only so far. Executive presence is about developing those “softer” social skills that will make you rise as far as you wish. People skills will advance you to leadership roles and help you earn more motivating bonuses and promotions. 

Hear more about executive presence at our November Accounting Show from speaker Eileen Smith, public speaking coach and founder of Spokesmith, who will give a presentation on developing your speaking skills and executive presence to take your career to new heights. 


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