An Expert Opinion: Advancing Your Career

From time to time, NCLGBA features commentary from industry and government experts on a variety of issues impacting local government budgeting professionals. This post, written by Dr. Stephen Straus, President and Founder of Developmental Associates, LLC, takes a look at competencies sought of those seeking management positions in local budgeting and finance.


The world of local government is changing rapidly.  Perhaps nowhere does this change reverberate more than in in Finance and Budget.  Certainly, there are long standing expectations of finance and budget managers especially with respect to credentials that remain fixed.   Nevertheless, local governments are increasingly concerned with new competencies.

When Developmental Associates conducts a search for any position we are looking for competencies in four areas detailed below.

Technical Competency – These competencies are concerned with specialized areas, such as computer programming, financial analysis, cost accounting, and statistical analysis. There are two levels of technical competence—knowledge and skill—both of which are acquired through education and experience.   Knowledge is a necessary but insufficient foundation to ensure skill, which is concerned with doing.  Knowledge of certain technical competencies is necessary for many executive positions, but skill is not. For example, finance and budget managers must have the knowledge to understand the financial reports generated by IT programs, but need not have the skill to operate the IT program and generate the report.

Finance and budget managers need to have a wealth of technical competencies, but the nature of those competencies are evolving.  One newer theme is the emphasis on breadth – not just depth.   In addition to the standard financial reporting, budgeting and accounting, local governments are also looking for experience in bond financing, capital improvement programs, and self-insured fund management. More “cutting edge” competencies, such as forecasting, performance management metrics, managing enterprise solutions and investment strategizing are fast being prioritized in skill portfolios.  Last but not least, in these economic times, local governments want their financial and budget managers to be creative about finding new revenue sources without raising taxes and to be skillful in finding organizational efficiencies that will reduce expenditures while maintaining or enhancing service.

Managerial Skills – Knowledge is of little importance when it comes to management; it is skill that is essential.  Traditionally, budget and finance managers could use the power of their expertise as well as their proximity to the manager to use a controlling approach.  Today, the more autocratic approach is a recipe for failure.  Finance and budget managers must develop partnerships with other departments to ensure a deeper understanding of their operations and to build trust so those departments are willing to provide information and jointly seek efficiencies.  The collaborative skills necessary for working effectively with other departments are also ideal for building competencies in staff and for retention since younger staff, in particular, want to find meaning in their work.

EQi-2.0Emotional Intelligence – When we evaluate candidates for managerial skills, we seek corroboration for these skills by assessing their Emotional Intelligence.  Candidates that exhibit emotional intelligence factors, such as flexibility, optimism, emotional expression, and social responsibility (a team orientation) are most likely to have the concomitant managerial skills necessary to partner with staff and other stakeholders.

Values and Beliefs – Competency with respect to values and beliefs covers a host of critical areas concerned with motivation and career aspirations. What motivates the candidate? Why is he or she seeking to change jobs? What are his or her career goals? What are his or her goals for the organization?  The key question here is what values and beliefs is the organization seeking, and how well do those match those of the candidates?

The best advice we can give candidates that wish to move up the ladder in local government budget and finance is to seek a variety of experiences, strive to be on the forefront of new developments in the field, and constantly work to refine your team leadership skills.

DevAssocDevelopmental Associates, LLC, helps organizations identify and develop leaders, people, and programs to achieve superior results. Their services include coaching, curriculum and program development, training, executive recruitment and applicant screening and selection. To learn more, visit their website,, or call 919-813 6096.

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