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As the professional body for people in public finance, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) is committed not only to supporting practitioners today but helping them prepare for the issues of tomorrow.

The global political and economic landscape is as volatile and unpredictable as ever. In this ever-changing public sector environment, the importance of continuous professional development cannot be understated. Lifelong learning is key to future-proofing the accountancy profession around the world. To follow through on our commitment to support public finance professionals, we have created a key competencies framework designed to guide accountants’ learning throughout their public sector careers, regardless of where they practice.

Key Competencies for Public Sector Finance Professionals outlines essential competencies in four core thematic areas:

  • Public sector context and needs;
  • Technical skills;
  • Leading and influencing; and
  • Increasing public value.

It is worth noting that this framework is not intended to serve as a rigid checklist of competencies or milestones. Rather, it is designed as a general planning aid and to stimulate thinking about public finance professionals’ continuing education and career pathways.

Given the diverse array of possible career pathways available to those working in public finance, expectations are not that everyone will need all the competencies identified in the framework. The aim is for these competencies to stimulate conversation and be used by public sector organizations, and the finance professionals working within them, to help identify ongoing knowledge gaps and professional training needs.

Public sector context and needs

Regardless of jurisdiction or country, the public sector is inherently value-driven and political, with risks and pressures that are distinct from those seen in the private sector. The first competency theme is designed to ensure public interest is at the heart of decision making and is particularly relevant for professionals working both within and alongside the public sector.

Competencies within this section of the framework aim to ensure professionals address any knowledge gaps pertaining to accountability, transparency, the political environment, risk management, financial crimes, and governance. Competent professionals should aim to continuously understand the current domestic and international policy contexts, ethical standards and evaluate financial resilience—all while keeping citizens’ interest at the heart of all decisions.

Technical skills

Proficiency in management accounting, financial accounting and audit forms the bedrock of a career in public finance. Whatever an accountant’s chosen specialty, there remains a need to ensure up-to-date knowledge of developments within their area of expertise.

Lifelong learning must address changing financial and management accounting standards, instil an understanding of assurance and scrutiny mechanisms, and provide knowledge of the opportunities and challenges linked to data and technology in public finance. Practitioners proficient in these areas should be able to respond to technical challenges efficiently and ensure their respective organisations have the specialist knowledge and skills based on the latest trends.

Leading and influencing

Effective financial leaders are as good at working with people as they are with numbers. Practically speaking, this means professionals should know how to collaborate, inspire, challenge and influence, in addition to compiling organisational accounts.

Public financial management practitioners should have the know-how and wherewithal to recognise and develop organisational talent, demonstrate a desire to create value and innovate, communicate different types of information effectively and drive a culture focused on collaboration, support and ethics. Effective public finance professionals must be able to articulate a clear direction when situations prove uncertain or ambiguous.

Increasing public value

Delivering value for money to the public should be the central focus for each and every public finance professional. This outcome requires practitioners to embrace innovation, understand and manage risk and reward, develop productive commercial partnerships, and evaluate business cases—all to ensure greater value for the public.

Depending on their role, public sector accountants may need to understand and apply a range of techniques to assess the viability of investments. It is also essential that practitioners are able to recognise when outside input is needed for a given project, be confident with the processes of the procurement cycle and are consistently able to execute principles of good contract management.

Public finance professionals using the key competencies framework should actively consider the extent to which the competencies within these four thematic areas are needed based on their job roles, seniority, and individual career pathways. It is important to note that this should be viewed as a continuous professional exercise. The training needs of both individuals and organisations will undoubtedly change over time.

While each and every competency will not be required for each and every public sector professional, this framework is designed to ensure any deficiencies in knowledge or skill are identified and efficiently resolved. Only by supporting continual growth and professional development will public finance professionals stay equipped to manage and respond to the finance issues of the future.