CEO to CEO: Qualities of a Great CFO

Association leaders share what they look for in a chief financial officer.

What characteristics do you look for in a CFO?

One of the most important characteristics of a CFO is the ability to communicate financial matters to nonfinancial people throughout the association. Most board members do not have a financial background and do not fully understand an association business model. The CFO must com municate to them in ways that educate and inform them. With staff, CFOs must not limit themselves to "just the numbers." Above all else, the CFO must be seen as trustworthy and knowledgeable.

—Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE, executive director, National Business Officers Association, Washington, DC

A good CFO honors the rigors of accounting policy, while helping everyone understand why the policies matter. And, above all, he or she has a moral compass that always points to doing what's right. Important skills include the ability to spot trends, good oral and written communication, and the ability to drill down into the details while still seeing the big picture.

—Mary K. Logan, CAE, chief executive director, Association for the Advancement of Medical Instruments, Arlington, Virginia

Honesty and integrity must be at the core of a CFO. The position requires the confidence and backbone to challenge management decisions and question numbers and assumptions and the communication skills to verbalize the implications of decisions. Value comes from interpretative ability as well as financial acumen. The CFO needs to be a strong member of the management team and can't just answer the questions asked. Instead, the CFO should provide context.

—Joanne S. Barry, CAE, executive director, New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, New York City

It is important for the CFO to be able to craft reports that tell the story in a way the finance committee and board can understand. He or she must be a numbers person who grasps and supports the mission and overall strategy of the association and won't make cost reduction a major priority. The priority has to be accomplishing our mission and serving our members.

—Susan B. Waters, CAE, CEO, National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, Falls Church, Virginia