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Finance officers and the leadership imperative.

One of the pleasures of being GFOA president has been the opportunity to attend many of your state conferences and annual meetings. You have shared with me a common commitment to and passion for our profession. I, too, am passionate about and have a long-term commitment to GFOA. I embrace our mission to identify and develop financial policies and practices and then promote them through education, training, and, most importantly, leadership.

The role of government finance professionals is changing. The days when the finance director was the backroom number cruncher are gone. Our responsibilities now extend far beyond the traditional roles of accounting, budgeting, cash management, and other functional responsibilities. As such, we must step out of our comfort zones and into a leadership role in our organizations.

Chris Chronis, the CFO of Sedgwick County, Kansas, recently presented a challenge to the members of the Kansas GFOA. At the fall conference he said that "we must learn how to apply new tools and techniques to provide services more efficiently and with less risk" and that the "traditional skills aren't enough anymore."

So true. Finance officers have not always been viewed as organizational leaders. Traditionally, our role was to support decision making by the chief executive and senior managers. This has changed. We are now seen as integral members of the senior management team.

To be successful, we must acquire leadership skills to complement our technical proficiency in finance. GFOA needs to take an active role in examining the evolving role of finance officers, and it must develop the training and educational opportunities necessary to shape leaders.

Above all else, finance officers need credibility. To me, credibility and honesty are the heart of leadership. If you are honest, you are willing to acknowledge mistakes and personal faults, and you are open to suggestions for improvement. Being open, creative, and accepting allows new ideas to flower.

Finance officers must also demonstrate initiative and be risk takers. This includes putting our organizations ahead of our own success. We must apply to our organizations the practical tools GFOA has provided us through its inventory of best practices.

We need to welcome our expanded role and believe in our ability to make a difference in our organizations. We need to leverage our knowledge, skills, and expertise to create improved results for our customers. We need to feel confident with our basic finance skills, but we also need to think creatively and work in a collaborative manner. This means understanding our current environment and its challenges while remaining responsive to changing needs and priorities. We also need to be open with our colleagues, constituents, and peers about how decisions are made, and develop alternatives for an emerging future.

Finally, we need to understand the importance of building trusting relationships in our organizations. Being a leader means promoting open communication, which leads to trust. John C. Maxwell, a leading author and expert in leadership, once wrote: "Educators take something simple and make it complicated. Communicators take something complicated and make it simple." We need to be candid and have no hidden agendas; we must be inclusive in decision making; and we should clearly communicate expectations and results.

Leadership is about relationship and influence. If we foster an open, collaborative, and inclusive environment, we will be able to make a difference. This includes partnering with our team members and senior officials in solving critical process problems. Our customers are demanding a higher level of service in spite of the fact that many of us now have fewer resources with which to work. We have to be more resourceful and creative in how we provide and fund essential services, and we must demonstrate a spirit of collaboration and willingness to solve our constituents' problems.

This issue of Government Finance Review explores the ever-expanding role of government finance professionals, particularly as it relates to leadership. We have attempted to offer a broad range of opinions on what it means to be a leader in public finance, not only from experts in the field, but also from you, the members. We hope these articles offer some meaningful insights and practical suggestions on how to exercise leadership in your organization.

Nancy Zielke

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Title Annotation:changing role of government finance professionals
Author:Zielke, Nancy
Publication:Government Finance Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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