The Importance of Success Skills in Professional Development

by Michael T. Romano Sr., CPA, and Lauren M. Lear, CPA | Mar 01, 2017
Pennsylvania CPA Journal

How often do you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation at work and either avoid the situation entirely or simply don’t know how to address it? Do you wish you could have more meaningful work and life experiences? Have you ever thought about why this happens or if your level of engagement and relationship skills may be a contributing factor?

CPAs spend a lot of time on continuing professional education, staying current on technical accounting rules and standards. Let’s face it, our technical competence is paramount to what we do: our clients rely on us for this expertise. Sometimes, though, we allow our technical strengths to overshadow our growth in relationship building and success-skills development.

Yes, technical professional development is crucial to the CPA profession, but interpersonal and relationship skills aren’t far behind. And that goes for CPAs in practice as well as those in industry. If you are not as sharp as you could be in these areas, it may be time to enhance your interpersonal skills and improve relationships both inside and outside of the office.

Success skills, also known as soft skills, are generally defined as traits and attributes that allow us to build meaningful relationships with others. They can be difficult to systemize or replicate simply by educating oneself in a traditional, technical skills training context. Developing them effectively is a key component to your success, enabling constructive and rewarding interaction with both clients and colleagues. We all want to work with others whom we enjoy being around, can learn from, and trust and respect.

Regardless of your specific role, employers, clients, and colleagues are drawn to good communication, critical observation, and the ability to resolve conflicts and solve problems, just to mention a few. Here are five success skills that are crucial for personal and professional development.

  • Attitude – A positive attitude can go a long way in life. Be self-motivated and self-aware. Recognize that you can’t be perfect, and there will always be something that you can improve upon. Reflect on weak areas and understand you have the power to do anything you want to do.
  • Interpersonal skills – Networking, collaboration, and communication are important for relationship building and success. However, these make many people anxious. It’s understandable and common, regardless of your experience. Look for social events with an interesting topic or at a popular venue. Prepare to be social by thinking of questions or discussion topics prior to the event.
  • Adaptability – Turn challenges into opportunities. Embrace change rather than resist it. We’re living and working in a world that is evolving, whether it be in the form of technology or culture. To use an old adage, the only thing certain is change, and something new will arise that challenges your routine. Since you can’t stop change, keep an open mind and you will realize significant benefits.
  • Leadership – Many emerging leaders have a difficult time recognizing that leadership is a skill, not a title. Leadership involves motivating, influencing, and developing others in addition to yourself. Everyone has the power to become a leader, regardless of your position.
  • Empathy – To build the most meaningful relationships, connect with others and understand what is important to them. This skill incorporates and ties together all of the other critical success skills. Show up and always be engaged.
To develop or enhance your overall success skills, be open-minded. Place yourself in new or uncomfortable situations to encourage personal growth, and actively participate in discussions as often as you can. Put yourself in the action.

To assess your progress, seek feedback about your development. Do not overlook or underestimate the importance of success-skills training and education in the process. In addition, seek out a mentor. Make sure this person is someone you respect, trust, and who will have your best interests in mind.

As you try out your new skills, ask for guidance and input. It may make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable at first, but this is normal. The more practice you put in, the more comfortable you will feel. Before you know it, you will start building stronger and more meaningful professional relationships.

Michael T. Romano Sr., CPA, is a partner in the life science industry practice group of RSM US LLP in Blue Bell. He can be reached at

Lauren M. Lear, CPA, is supervisor, finance and accounting outsourcing, for RSM US LLP. She can be reached at
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