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CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 3 – Interpersonal Skills

Jun 1, 2021

Part 3 of CPA Survival Toolkit series

CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 3 – Interpersonal Skills
In addition to accounting knowledge and technology proficiency, CPAs need a strong portfolio of soft skills, especially in communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and leadership.
Despite all of the recent advances in technology, today’s software programs cannot build relationships, lead teams, or exhibit empathy and self-awareness. In addition to accounting knowledge and technology proficiency, CPAs need a strong portfolio of soft skills, especially in communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and leadership.

The AICPA and Institute of Management Accountants Inc. have developed core competency frameworks that heavily emphasize nontechnical skills as competencies needed in the accounting profession. Leaders in industry, public accounting, and academia all have a role to play to ensure current and future CPAs develop these skills.

Communication – In most accounting roles, individuals are expected to present complex information to clients or team members who do not have an accounting background. Those who do not possess adequate communication skills can negatively impact client satisfaction, internal working relationships, and their own employability. According to Jane Snipes, a managing partner at Northstar Recruiting, “The most important soft skill is communication. It’s the foundation of every other soft skill.”13 Since younger generations tend to communicate more via text or social media than in-person, they may be at greater risk for not developing sufficient communication capabilities. 

Critical thinking – According to Bloom’s taxonomy, higher-order thinking skills are characterized by the ability to analyze situations, draw connections among ideas, evaluate, and ultimately recommend a course of action. Employees with strong critical-thinking skills will be better able to solve complex problems and make effective decisions. The AICPA considers critical-thinking skills to be one of the core competencies for CPAs. Consequently, the CPA Exam has evolved to increase the assessment of these skills through task-based simulations.

Collaboration – Cross-functional teams have become the norm, and the ability of employees to collaborate is essential for organizational success. Thanks to cloud computing and applications such as Microsoft Teams, successful team collaboration is taking place, even as many of us work from home due to the pandemic. Emphasis on collaboration is not only important in the workplace, but also for students in accounting programs. Employers and professional accounting bodies express concern that teamwork among recent graduates is lacking. Clearly communicating the importance of collaboration as it relates to the modern profession is paramount to helping future employees embrace the importance of teamwork.

Leadership – Motivating and coaching a team to work toward achieving a common goal is an essential soft skill as the success of any organization depends on effective leadership. As Ross Chapman wrote for AccountancyAge, leadership “involves taking ownership, coaching talent, and making difficult decisions when required.”14 These skills should be deliberately cultivated in the workplace and in academic settings.

Growth mindset – Employees who believe that their talents can be developed to become more productive and solve problems have a growth mindset. These are the types of employees who will be motivated to engage in upskilling efforts and who will likely be more adaptable to an ever-changing, multicultural business environment. Kate Barton, global vice chair of tax at EY, provides the following advice for accountants just starting their careers: “The one way you can guarantee that you continue to be stimulated by your job is to keep learning, keep pushing yourself to take on new challenges, and to keep asking questions.”15

For tips on building these 5 skills, see the next article in the CPA Survival Toolkit series: Part 4—What You Need to Know About Upskilling.

Did you miss Part 1 or Part 2?

CPA Survival Toolkit: Part 1—Your “Must-Knows” & “Must Dos”

CPA Survival Toolkit series: Part 2—Technologies

Reprinted with permission from the Pennsylvania CPA Journal, a publication of the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.


14 Ross Chapman, “Six Skills Accountants Need to Succeed in the Future,” AccountancyAge (Nov. 26, 2018).

15 Ibid.

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About the Author

Cory Ng, CPA, CGMA, DBA, is an associate professor of instruction in accounting at the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia and a member of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at

Brian Trout, CPA, CMA, DBA, is an assistant professor of accounting and finance at Millersville University in Millersville. He can be reached at