CFO role increasingly demanding in Australian Public Service

15 April 2020 3 min. read
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A new survey conducted among leaders in the Australian Public Service reveals that the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is growing more sophisticated by the day. Financial and technical skills aside, CFOs now need to be well versed in strategy, leadership, workforce management and decision support.  

Skills required in most professional areas are evolving rapidly, not only due to the advent of technology, but also due to changes in the nature of working. Organisations are gravitating towards agility, flexibility and efficiency in the workplace, which requires significant versatility from teams and individuals.

To gain insight in the role of the CFO in the Australian Public Service (the federal civil service of the Commonwealth of Australia), PwC surveyed senior leaders in the domain on their role expectations. Finding that most have positioned an evolving responsibility for the CFO as a key development in the near future.

Financial leaders in the Australian Public Service are already straddled with a host of responsibilities, which includes overseeing nearly $500 billion in annual public sector expenditure. In their current capacity, PwC points out that CFOs are in charge of financial governance, managing public money and overall contributions to organisational strategy. This is in addition to absorbing and managing criticism around channels of public expenditure, including much debated spending on external advisory services.

CFO role increasingly demanding in Australian Public Service

“They need to balance short-term concerns – setting and reporting on performance against annual budgets, as well as realising efficiency dividends – with their organisation’s long-term vision and maintain overall sustainability,” write PwC’s experts in their report.

The survey reveals that leaders are demanding more and more from their CFOs. For instance, in light of the expansive purview of public sector projects, being skilled in strategic stakeholder management and engagement is crucial for CFOs, particularly within the finance function. Not only do CFOs need to coordinate with other APS agencies, they need to manage their professional relationships in a way that they extract the best from all involved.

In similar vein, another skill that senior leaders demand is leadership and workforce management. CFOs are now required to identify the type of team they need to put together, and guide professionals through various stages of a project’s development, as well as individual development.

Lastly, senior APS leaders revealed that a number of federal agencies are facing a range of challenges are present, meaning that CFOs need to possess a number of interpersonal capacities to navigate this environment, including being decisive and able to take a solution-oriented approach.