FC to CFO – understanding and assessing the step up

Like in most jobs, we all start our career by developing our knowledge and working hard to become subject matter experts in our field of work. We focus on developing our technical skills, experience and understanding and, in a profession such as Finance, we often supplement this with studying towards chartership qualifications. This approach gets people off to a great start in their careers and sets them in good stead for the future.

However, there comes a point when all the strengths we have developed can only get us so far and can in fact become a barrier to making the trajectory step up to the top job in our chosen profession. Suddenly, there is a completely different set of behaviours we need to be demonstrating.  We are expected to move from technical experts to more generalist leaders, less operational and more strategic, less focus on doing and more empowering of others.

For example, let us look at the different behaviours typically expected from a number 2 and a number 1 Finance leadership role.

FC/No 2 in Finance:

    • SMT member
    • Input to the Board on Finance matters
    • Operational / strong delivery focus
    • Inward looking
    • Shorter to medium term planning
    • Close to the detail/hands on
    • Identify and contribute better ways of working
    • Lead through doing / setting positive example
    • Build relationships

CFO/No 1 in Finance:

    • Board member
    • Strategic contribution to the Board
    • Strong strategic and commercial focus
    • Outward looking
    • Forward looking/longer term strategy development
    • Can move in and out of the detail
    • Lead change / transformation
    • Lead by coaching and empowering others
    • Leverage relationships


Indeed, it is a very different set of skills that are required to make the step up to CFO, or any Exec level role, and many candidates fail to bridge this gap because they have not had the right experiences or developed a broad enough set of skills earlier in their career. Very often this means internal candidates applying for a promotion within their organisation will struggle to compete against the external market.

So how do we give our internal talent the best chance to reach their potential without losing them to another organisation?

    • Understand the requirements of an Exec level leader
    • Identify high potential, internal talent earlier in their careers
    • Assess your talent – identify the gaps and their onward potential
    • Provide early, targeted, developmental input, projects, and career experiences with the future in mind
    • This is crucial to retaining talent, building engagement and commitment, and ensuring internal candidates have had exposure to challenges and experiences that will equip them to successfully make the step up, when the time comes.

If you would like to discuss how your organisation might approach leadership development or assessment of talent for your top roles, then please get in touch with Liz Lawson, MSc Occupational Psychology, Specialist in Psychometric & Leadership Assessment on 07483 386130.

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“Your assessments are incredibly accurate; your understanding of our internal candidate is proof of that”

“Over the last few years, your assessments for our key Board level roles, have been instrumental in helping us to grow the organisation (with the right people)”.

“Our values and our culture are something we have worked so hard to achieve – your assessments have helped us to find people who genuinely fit our organisation”.

“Your detailed candidate reports and suggested interview questions have really helped us to make the best use of the interview time with our candidates – it has enabled us to put them under pressure and explore any risks, which wouldn’t have been uncovered in an ordinary interview situation.