Over the last few years there have been several case studies which look at how and why chief financial officer’s (CFO) need to become effective leaders to make the move to CEO. Leadership at the top requires a CEO to wear many hats and have amazing insights into strategy to deliver solutions and hit targets.

Key findings in the white papers is that the traditional chief financial officer’s role is evolving to become more operational, and that leadership and people skills are essential requirements for today’s CFO.

At MentorEU we are often asked by CFOs what it takes to make the jump to CEO, and this blog should help to address this question to some degree.

Skills Needed to be a CEO

Traditionally, not too many CFOs made the jump to CEO simply because their sphere of influence was limited to numbers and analytics. To make the leap operations and people skills are needed in abundance. Arguably, it is these two areas which you should focus on if you have aspirations to make the CEO leap.

In many organisations this is already happening. If it is not happening in your organisation, taking the time to improve your understanding of operations is a must to make the leap to CEO.

So consider:

Asking questions about the operational side of the business in your organisation. Make the time to learn how the business functions. This is crucial to becoming a CEO. Many CEOs say you never stop learning and they never stop asking questions about the operational side of the business.

Becoming a good communicator and people person. This is essential to inspire the people in your organisation to perform at their best. When your people are performing at their best, your company will perform better, and your reputation will be better. This will not only help you when you take the big chair but it will help your progress to become a CEO.

Both of these skills will help you better explain the numbers in your current CFO role, and you will be able to take this with you once you reach the top job.

Take advantage of career opportunities. Although it sounds obvious, if you have a chance to attend a webinar, go to a networking event, and attend training course, take them. You will improve your communication skills, keep up with trends and concepts, and start readying yourself to become chief executive. Your network of contacts will also increase.


According to Pearson Partners, one CFO stated in a confidential interview:

“I believe the CFO will continue to gain ground as a bona fide CEO candidate in addition to the traditional selection of top executives with operational, sales and marketing backgrounds. But ultimately there is no substitute for effective leadership, which is the most critical attribute of a successful CEO regardless of prior experience.”

With this in mind and using the Pearson Partners white paper as a guide, consider the following which according to the CFOs who made it to CEO level are needed to reach the top job.

  • Emotional intelligence – being able to recognise the importance of treating people with respect and showing empathy in emotional situations
  • Setting a personal example – demonstrating a positive attitude and showing others how to move toward a common goal.
  • “Servant leadership” – helping to ensure everyone in the organization has the right tools and support to be successful in their jobs.
  • Problem-solving skills – being able to drill down to the key issues in highly complex business situations.