A survey of a group of more than 700 accountants found that they see productivity as the top challenge facing leaders during poor economic times.

The survey, by Ajilon Finance and the Institute of Management Accountants, conducted during the IMA’s Inside Talk Webinar Series, asked accountants to rank the leadership qualities they see as most important during both good and bad economic times. The survey found that leadership priorities change depending on the performance of the overall economy. In good economic times, accountants say the top three most challenging decisions for leaders to make are: recruiting and retaining top talent (47 percent), pursuing growth opportunities (42 percent) and maintaining a competitive edge (42 percent). In contrast, the top challenges facing leaders in poor economic times are productivity, or doing more with less (49 percent), motivating the workforce (44 percent) and pursuing growth opportunities (33 percent).

According to the survey, one-third (33 percent) of accountants feel an ability to inspire and motivate is the most important quality of leadership in the 21st century, followed by communications skills (15 percent) and people management skills (13 percent). In contrast, accountants said that hard skills such as global knowledge/expertise and keen decision-making were more rewarded leadership qualities at their organizations.

Despite the downturn, workforce training remains an important investment for many companies, with 31 percent of survey respondents saying training is a non-discretionary expense at their companies. Other non-discretionary expenses include: workforce flexibility (27 percent), succession planning (26 percent), leadership development (25 percent) and enhancing the company’s brand (25 percent).

When asked what they need most to be effective leaders, most accountants (29 percent) said more time. Only 14 percent of respondents said more money, and 13 percent said more influence over others.

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