How Do You Self Identify? Professional Identity and Balancing Competing Interests

Eva Tsahuridu, Policy Adviser Professional Standards and Governance, CPA Australia | September 15, 2014 | 1

Being a professional accountant requires an identity, which relies on the values and characteristics of the profession. That identity is about who we think we are and how we see ourselves—perceptions affect our behavior. For accountants to be professionals, they must develop a professional identity, which usually happens through education and training, professional development, membership and affiliation with professional accounting organizations, and socialization with other professional accountants.

Indeed, a profession is generally characterized by a common set of values—usually reflected in a code of ethics—that include the pursuit of the public interest, independence and self-regulation, knowledge and education, and professional judgment. Professions rely on public trust and play an important role in key areas of other people’s lives and society in general.

But at the same time, professional identity is constantly negotiated and developed through interaction with others. This is important for professional accountants in business and in public practice. Accountants may see themselves as employees and as professional accountants and the perceived demands of these roles may not always be perfectly aligned.

Accountants who see themselves more as professional accountants are expected to be more likely to behave in accordance with the principles of the profession, while those who identify more strongly as employees would be more likely to behave in line with the employers’ demands.

Research indicates that professionals may be affected by the demands of their employee role and may fail to recognize their professional duties and responsibilities.

Professional accountants in business may find themselves in a situation where they are hired for their professionalism and independent judgment and yet, as they become integrated in the organization, their organizational identity may become more dominant than their professional identity. This is not necessarily a problem but it can become one if issues are resolved without considering professional responsibilities, which fundamentally are about serving the public interest.

I think the greater risk is not when professionals consciously choose not to act in accordance with their professional obligations but when they unconsciously do not even consider them.

As professionals we need to see good professional practice and ethics as a whole. After all, accounting as a profession is about truth. It is important that we do not lose sight of the ethical content of our actions and responsibilities. We need to be aware that even though we may be motivated to do the right thing we are subject to influences and pressures that may blind us to what we should be paying attention to. Therefore, we need to explicitly assess our actions in relation to our professional obligations.

CPA Australia has three podcasts on ethical behavior and the professional identity of accountants available online with Professor Sally Gunz and me. I hope you will have a listen and let us know what your most prevailing concerns are on the topic.


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Kari Lydman September 16, 2014

In bigger companies, Big4 and so on, it is surely a risk to feel yourself only as an employee. Own thinking is not promoted, rather on the contrary - obey the rules. Best management keeps their staff in line but enhancing individualism, innovation at the same time. Ethics is fundamental part of professionalism but how much it is educated, reminded in the Learning&Education functions of the firms? Assuring trust is our business but if you skip or play with the ethics in doing that, you are in a wrong profession.


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