Magazine article Government Finance Review

Relationship Advice for the Finance Officer

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Relationship Advice for the Finance Officer

Article excerpt

Finance officers haven't typically looked to best practices or other GFOA sources for relationship advice. That is changing, though, because nurturing the right kind of professional relationships can help make finance officers more effective at improving their organizations. Specifically finance officers can play a key role in improving organizational resiliency by creating strong connections with other leaders.

The traditional role of the finance officer has been evolving for many years, becoming a key element of many governments' leadership teams. In the past, the finance function was relegated to enforcing rules, keeping financial records, and providing detailed reports. The finance staff was called on only as a technical resource. However, the emergence of important organizational disciplines such as budgeting, forecasting, long-range financial planning, and strategic planning have elevated the skill set of the finance officer. While the rate of this elevation has varied greatly from one organization to another, it is safe to say that on the whole, a pretty significant transformation has occurred. Today's finance officer is often called on to be a key organizational leader lending expertise and guidance to many of the more perplexing problems our organizations face. This includes being able to withstand unknown future perils--in other words, being a resilient organization. In that context, the GFOA's financial resiliency taskforce has developed some advice for how government finance officers can effectively build relationships in their organizations.


At its core, the role of the finance officer is to make it possible for the government to provide public services that are of value to constituents. The finance function seldom provides these public services directly; instead, it supports those who do. Therefore, it is important for the finance officer to become authentically engaged with those who design, develop, and provide direct public service. In this way, we can provide real value as direct service providers come across challenges that finance officers are better qualified to address. While people in our organizations may not have thought to ask for our help in the past, strong relationships will likely result in more willingness to engage the finance function earlier on. And the earlier that finance officers can assist in either adding value or avoiding bad choices, the better the end result will likely be.

This is not to suggest that finance officers should abandon their fiduciary responsibilities, laws, or best practices. Instead, these responsibilities provide part of the context within which we can add value to the work being performed. As a result of strong relationships, others in the organization will develop a level of trust and confidence in the finance officer's advice. When you are providing advice that may seem like a complication to someone who doesn't have knowledge of the legal limitations, trust will help that person appreciate your contribution and understand its usefulness.


One reason finance officers might be reluctant to "let others into the tent" is the possibility of a breakdown in the traditional (and necessary) role of fiduciary responsibility. So long as the fiduciary role is safeguarded, opening the door to a more collaborative working relationship between finance officers and other employees doesn't pose a risk. Providing staff members with easy access to the regulatory framework via the intranet will lower the barrier to compliance with policies and procedures.

Potentially even more important than the rules are the reasons behind them--which provide the finance officer with an opportunity to both affirm the rules and build relationships. Rather than simply stating what the rules are, start with the objective of the rules (e.g., preservation of assets, avoidance of fraud, and accountability to the public). …

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