Washington Chapter

The Growing Role of a Firm Manager: From Admin to Executive

Published December 22, 2017
The dynamics of the practice and operations in CPA firms today have become infinitely more complex, creating a challenge for firms that are resistant to change. Many firms have a managing partner that functions more as a high-level firm administrator or firm manager than a leader of the firm. Resistance to letting go of management and administrative duties by managing partners results in less than effective leadership for the firm. Is it not the managing partner’s role to “lead” the firm? Partners who hang on to administrative functions are the most underutilized group doing things that others can do and not concentrating time on things that “ONLY” partners can do. So the question becomes, what are the firm’s needs in terms of management and administration? And then, who should fill this role?

The role of a firm manager

A growing number of firms understand that the role of the firm manager is crucial to a firm for strong management, effective governance and for the success of the managing partner. These firms continue to expand and elevate the role to that of executive director or chief operating officer. The title isn’t as important as the scope of the executive’s role. Therefore, it may be different for each firm. The scope of the executive role should involve responsibility for all the “non-public accounting” functions in the firm. This could include the following:

- Recruitment, oversight and development of professionals and staff
- Human relations, HR policies and practices, retention programs
- Technology and integration
- Financial management, financial reporting and analysis, cash management
- Training and development
- Coordination of marketing and business development
- Non-voting membership on executive or management committee
- Participation in development and implementing the firm’s strategic plan
- Support and reinforcement of firm culture

Define your needs

Before Identifying or searching for an individual to fill the new role of Executive Firm Manager, Chief Operating Office or Executive Director, the firm needs to address questions such as: What role should your new firm manager play? What sort of educational background and professional qualifications does your firm need? Do you want someone with prior CPA firm experience? Or are you open toward the fresh ideas that a professional from another sector might bring? Is there a job description defining core competencies for the position? It’s especially important to take the time to define your needs at the outset. Because then you have a much better chance of finding the right business leader for your firm.

An excellent resource in developing the firm’s plan to define the role of the CPA Firm Administrator is the CPA Firm Management Association (CPAFMA). CPAFMA has expanded its mission and operations to educate, train and further develop professional administrators. In addition, it has recently created the certification of the Professional Accounting Firm Manager (PAFM). CPAFMA is a terrific resource for sample job descriptions, a matrix of responsibilities to help in designing the job description, salary surveys, along with a community of firm managers.

The key to success is knowing what you want and need from the get-go. Design, seek, and succeed.

To learn how a firm manager can create efficiency and build profitability, download our whitepaper, The Managing Partner’s Guide to Building a Future-Ready Firm.

Originally written by Ginny Fedrich, PAFM for the Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting Blog.