6 Skills You Need to Move Up to Payroll Management

By Robert Half May 8, 2019 at 9:48am

Interested in moving up to payroll management? There’s been no better time. Payroll managers are in high demand, and employers are offering attractive compensation to secure top talent.

Still, advancing to a managerial role can be a big step. Most companies will want to see at least five years of working in payroll, along with a relevant bachelor’s degree. For candidates without four years of university, employers often accept equivalent experience. This often translates as a longer work history, especially in a supervisory role. Many payroll managers also have a certification, such as the Certified Payroll Manager (CPM), but it’s not always required.

Is that all? Well, even in a hot hiring market, you’ll need to do more than meet minimum requirements. Competition for the better jobs can always be tough. And when hiring for a leadership position, employers look for gold. Here are six skills to develop that will help you stand out from the crowd and land the payroll management position you want.

1. Payroll systems experience

Employers expect senior payroll professionals to know their way around common payroll platforms such as ADP Workforce Now, Kronos and Workday. But “experience” means more than just data entry and basic navigation. Really get to know your system’s more advanced features, such as customizing portals, setting up access and permissions, changing workflow events and creating custom templates.

2. Other technical expertise

Developing your hard skills is always a good career move, no matter your position or industry. For payroll managers, that means hands-on experience with general accounting software and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, such as SAP, Netsuite and Oracle; proficiency with Microsoft Office and Google Drive is also expected. To really get ahead in your field, stay current on the latest in payroll technology, including process automation and the rise of artificial intelligence.

Not sure where to start? Register for vendor-sponsored courses and work through online tutorials. Ask your supervisor for cross-training, or for permission to job shadow a senior payroll professional. You’ll learn a lot, and by asking for professional development and on-the-job training, you’ll show senior managers your initiative and desire to learn.

3. Business acumen

You have to have some level of expertise to advance your payroll career, of course, but try to take time to become a generalist as well as a specialist. What does this mean? Thanks to ERPs and a trend toward cross-departmental collaboration, the line between payroll and other functions is blurring. So learn what you can about human resources, accounting and data analysis. The more you understand how a complex business operates, the better situated you’ll be to take the helm as a manager.

4. Compliance knowledge

Payroll systems continually update their software to reflect legislative changes to taxes, medical benefits and other matters that fall under payroll’s purview. However, humans – specifically, payroll managers – are ultimately responsible for making sure a company remains compliant with myriad local, provincial and federal requirements. To stay current, subscribe to payroll newsletters and compliance-related blogs – then make it part of your work schedule to read them. Webinars sponsored by professional organizations are also an excellent source.

5. Leadership qualities

It’s the age-old conundrum: To get a job as a payroll manager, hiring managers typically want supervisory experience. But how do you get that when you’re not yet in management? For one, you could hone your leadership skills by asking for assignments that will put you in charge of a project or team. Also, look outside the workplace for leadership opportunities, even as a volunteer (professional associations are excellent training grounds, and they offer valuable networking opportunities). Career development courses and guidance from a mentor can also give valuable insight into the qualities of leadership.

6. Excellent soft skills

Effective payroll managers know how to deal with a range of people — their team, other directors, company employees, board members, vendors and government functionaries. As you sharpen your hard skills and burnish your credentials, give as much attention to your interpersonal skills. Polished written and verbal communication, customer service and conflict resolution skills, for example, are all essential for managing people and their expectations. Managers also possess self-initiative, outstanding time management skills and similar qualities to handle their heavy work load.

Rewards of payroll management roles

Building your skill set takes time and hard work, but it’s worth it. For one thing, salaries go up as you get into management. The 2019 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals reveals that payroll managers can expect a starting salary of $77,000 per year. That can vary by industry and location. Use our Salary Calculator to find out what payroll manager salaries are offered in your city.

When you make yourself an authority on payroll processes and show your ability to lead effectively, you raise your profile and make yourself indispensable. That’s the gold employers look for.

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