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Accounting Director Career Guide

What is an accounting director?

An accounting director is a senior leader in an organization’s finance department, overseeing all accounting activities and ensuring financial transactions are accurately recorded and reported. Their function is crucial in maintaining the financial health of an organization, providing key financial insights to guide business decisions and strategy.

They are at the heart of financial operations, providing leadership to the accounting department and working closely with the senior management team, auditors, and regulatory authorities. Their role extends beyond just numbers as they contribute to developing financial strategies, setting fiscal goals, ensuring compliance with regulations, and promoting financial best practices throughout the organization.

Duties and responsibilities

Accounting directors are responsible for overseeing the work of the accounting department and ensuring all financial records and statements are accurate. They are tasked with establishing and implementing accounting policies and procedures, developing budgeting processes, and preparing financial forecasts. An integral part of the role involves coordinating auditing processes, ensuring compliance with state and federal government regulations, and maintaining a comprehensive set of controls designed to mitigate risk and enhance the accuracy of the company’s reported financial results.

In addition, they play a significant role in strategic planning, contributing their financial expertise to business decisions. They work closely with executive leadership, providing data-driven insights and recommendations to inform the company’s long-term financial planning and risk management strategies.

Work environment

Accounting directors typically work in an office setting, either within the company’s headquarters or a regional office. They often work in various industries, including finance, manufacturing, retail, and technology. 

The work environment can be fast-paced and demanding, especially during critical financial reporting periods or when dealing with complex financial transactions. As a result, those who choose this career path must be able to handle pressure, multitask, and maintain strong attention to detail. 

Typical work hours

The typical work hours for an accounting director are generally standard business hours, from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday. However, it is common for professionals in this field to work longer hours, particularly during peak financial reporting periods. These times include month-end, quarter-end, and year-end closings, or when working on significant projects. 

Additionally, they may be required to attend meetings and conferences outside of regular business hours. In some cases, travel may also be necessary to visit other company locations, attend industry events, or meet with external stakeholders such as auditors, tax authorities, or regulators. 

As a high-level professional within an organization, their work hours can be demanding. They must be prepared to put in the necessary time to fulfill their responsibilities and ensure the accuracy of the company’s financial records.

How to become an accounting director

This career guide section outlines how to become an accounting director. Acquiring the right education, gaining relevant work experience, and securing professional certifications are primary steps to launching a successful career in this role.

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field from an accredited college or university. A solid educational foundation is essential for understanding accounting, financial analysis, and management principles and practices. This degree will also provide you with a strong base for pursuing further education or certifications later in your career.

Step 2: Gain relevant work experience

After completing your bachelor’s degree, look for entry-level positions in accounting or finance to gain practical experience. As you progress in your career, aim to gain experience in different areas such as financial reporting, budgeting, and internal auditing. Many companies prefer candidates with a diverse range of skills and expertise, so varied work experience will be advantageous.

Step 3: Take accounting classes and training

You can take additional courses to earn certifications and add them to your resume. Accounting directors can earn certifications proving they possess all the basic skills necessary to perform their job well. Here are a few options you can take while searching for work:

  • Dive into the specifics of analyzing statements with the Accounting & Financial Statement Analysis training course. You’ll learn to build a balance sheet and understand the accounting equation and the principle of double entry.
  • Take the Accounting & Bookkeeping Masterclass from Udemy to bring your understanding of accounting to a new level. Besides learning the basics, you’ll dive into more complicated transactions, like discounts and sales taxes.
  • Udemy offers a Financial Accounting course. This course covers basic accounting principles, such as debits and credits, financial statements, and the difference between accrual and cash accounting.
  • Learn about bookkeeping and become certified with the Intuit Bookkeeping course from Coursera. This certificate will allow you to demonstrate your knowledge of bookkeeping fundamentals and practice with real-world scenarios.
  • The Fundamentals of Accounting Specialization course from Coursera is an option to learn more about the “language of business.” Accounting is an important aspect for anyone in business.
  • Another great option from Coursera that offers a more specific deep dive is Create a Financial Statement using Microsoft Excel. Using Microsoft Excel, you can create a transactions page, a profit and loss statement, and a balance sheet. This course would be a great addition to your resume.
  • Accounting for Decision Making is a course that will provide information and tools to help you answer two important business questions, “What do I have?” and “How did I do over time?” In addition to promoting more productive conversations in a business environment, this course will emphasize the importance of accounting when making decisions.

Step 4: Obtain a professional certification

Consider obtaining professional certification to demonstrate your commitment to the field and your expertise. The most common certification for accounting professionals is the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation. Earning your CPA license will require passing a rigorous exam and meeting specific educational and experience requirements. 

Other relevant certifications include the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified Financial Analyst (CFA).

Step 5: Pursue a master’s degree or advanced coursework (optional)

Although not always required, a master’s degree in accounting, finance, or business administration (MBA) can help you stand out as a candidate for this position. Advanced coursework in taxation, corporate finance, or financial management can also enhance your skills and knowledge, making you a more competitive candidate.

Step 6: Develop your leadership and management skills

Directors are responsible for leading a team of accounting professionals and overseeing a company’s financial operations. To prepare for this role, focus on developing your leadership and management skills through professional development courses, seminars, or workshops. 

You may also consider seeking opportunities for leadership roles within your current organization to gain hands-on experience.

Step 7: Network and apply for positions

As you gain experience and develop your skills, start networking within your industry to learn about job opportunities. Attend conferences, workshops, or other industry events to connect with professionals in your field. When you feel ready, apply for accounting director positions and tailor your resume and cover letter to showcase your experience, skills, and accomplishments.

How much do accounting directors make?

The compensation for an accounting director can be influenced by various factors such as geographic location, level of education, years of experience, company size, and industry. Bonuses and commissions can also impact their overall income. 

Professionals with higher education, extensive experience, or specialized skills typically command higher salaries. The particular industry and location can also play a significant role in determining their earnings.

Highest paying industries

  • Finance: $154,210
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises: $141,240
  • Insurance Carriers: $136,590
  • Computer Systems Design: $135,820
  • Manufacturing: $133,680

Highest paying states

  • New York: $166,910
  • New Jersey: $151,810
  • California: $149,890
  • Massachusetts: $146,860
  • Virginia: $144,920

Browse accounting director salary data by market

Types of accounting directors

In this section of the career guide, we will explore the various types and specializations of accounting directors.

Financial reporting director

A professional in this role is responsible for preparing and presenting accurate and timely financial reports for an organization. These individuals ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and accounting standards, such as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). 

They work closely with other finance professionals to analyze financial data, identify trends, and provide insights to support strategic decision-making.

Tax director

A tax director specializes in managing an organization’s tax strategy and ensuring compliance with local, state, and federal tax laws. Their responsibilities include overseeing the preparation and submission of tax filings, maintaining updated knowledge of tax regulations, and implementing tax-saving strategies. 

These professionals often collaborate with other financial experts to optimize tax planning and reduce the organization’s tax liability.

Internal audit director

An internal audit director leads the internal audit function within an organization. Their primary tasks involve designing and implementing audit programs to evaluate the effectiveness of internal controls, identify potential risks, and ensure compliance with policies, procedures, and regulations. 

Professionals in this specialization also provide recommendations for improving operational efficiency and safeguarding organizational assets.

Nonprofit accounting director

A nonprofit accounting director is responsible for managing the financial operations of a nonprofit organization. Ensuring compliance with nonprofit-specific accounting standards, preparing financial reports for stakeholders, and developing budgets to support the organization’s mission and goals fall within their scope of work. 

These professionals also work closely with the board of directors, grantors, and donors to ensure the efficient use of funds and financial transparency.

Cost accounting director

These directors focus on analyzing and managing the costs associated with an organization’s production or service delivery. Their responsibilities include developing cost accounting systems, monitoring production costs, and providing insights to support pricing strategies and cost reduction initiatives. 

They also collaborate with other departments, such as operations, supply chain, and sales, to optimize resource allocation and improve profitability.

Top skills for accounting directors

Excelling in this profession requires strong analytical skills, in-depth knowledge of accounting principles, effective communication abilities, and an eye for detail. A solid understanding of various accounting software and tools is also essential.

Analytical skills are important to interpret complex financial data and make informed decisions based on their findings. A strong aptitude for critical thinking enables them to identify trends, uncover discrepancies, and evaluate the financial implications of various business activities. This skill set is vital for managing risk, optimizing financial performance, and driving the organization’s financial strategy.

A comprehensive understanding of accounting principles is required to ensure an organization’s financial activities adhere to established standards and regulations. This includes knowledge of GAAP, IFRS, and relevant tax laws.  By maintaining a strong foundation in these principles, individuals in this role can ensure accurate and compliant financial reporting, essential for building trust with stakeholders and maintaining the company’s reputation.

Effective communication abilities are critical to relay complex financial information to both internal and external stakeholders in a clear and concise manner. This skill extends to written reports, presentations, and one-on-one interactions and is necessary to provid insight, collaborate with colleagues, and keep senior management informed of the organization’s financial status and any potential issues that may arise.

Even minor discrepancies in financial records can have significant consequences for an organization, so these professionals must have strong attention to detail. By meticulously reviewing financial statements, budgets, and other documents, accounting directors can identify errors, inconsistencies, and potential areas of concern. This level of precision ensures accurate reporting and helps to maintain the integrity of the company’s financial information.

Finally, a thorough understanding of accounting software and tools is necessary to efficiently manage the organization’s financial activities. Familiarity with software such as QuickBooks, Microsoft Dynamics, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems enables them to streamline processes, automate tasks, and generate accurate financial reports. They can continually improve the organization’s financial management capabilities by staying up to date with the latest technology and industry trends.

Accounting director career path

An individual pursuing a career as an accounting director typically begins by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. After gaining a solid educational foundation, they may start their professional journey as a junior accountant or staff accountant to gain practical experience.

As more skills and experience are obtained, there will be opportunities to progress into senior accountant or accounting supervisor roles. These positions usually require a strong understanding of accounting principles, financial statements, and regulatory compliance. 

Earning a professional certification, such as the CPA designation, can further enhance career prospects and credibility in the field.

After several years in senior accounting roles and demonstrating strong leadership skills, the next step is to become an accounting manager. This role involves overseeing a team of accountants, handling budgeting and forecasting, and ensuring compliance with accounting standards and regulations.

Finally, with extensive experience and a proven track record of success in managing financial operations, they can advance to the accounting director role. This position typically involves strategic planning, financial analysis, and management of the accounting department within an organization. Some professionals may choose to pursue a master’s degree in business administration or finance to support their career progression and deepen their expertise.

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on regulatory compliance, financial transparency, and risk management, increasing the demand for skilled accounting directors. The integration of new technologies, such as automation and data analytics, has also changed the profession, with an increased focus on leveraging these tools to improve efficiency, accuracy, and strategic decision-making. As organizations continue to expand globally, professionals with experience in international finance and taxation will be highly sought after.

Employment projections for accounting directors

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of accountants and auditors, which includes accounting directors, is projected to grow 6 percent through 2031, which is as fast as the average for all occupations. 

The need for organizations to maintain accurate financial records, comply with regulations, and make informed financial decisions will continue to drive demand for these professionals. Globalization and the increasing complexity of tax and regulatory environments will further contribute to this growth.

Accounting director career tips

Stay updated on industry regulations and standards

To succeed in this role, it is crucial to stay current on industry regulations, accounting standards, and best practices. This will enable you to effectively manage your team and ensure that your organization is compliant with all relevant financial regulations. Attend conferences, workshops, and webinars, and read industry publications to stay informed about the latest developments and changes in the field.

Build a professional network

Networking can help you access valuable resources, knowledge, and potential job opportunities. Join relevant professional associations and networks to connect with other accounting professionals and stay updated on industry news and trends. 

Some of the key organizations include:

  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
  • Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
  • Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)
  • Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
  • Financial Executives International (FEI)

Develop strong leadership and communication skills

Effective leadership and communication skills are essential for this role. You’ll need to guide your team, manage resources, and communicate complex financial information to stakeholders. Focus on developing these skills through training, mentorship, or by seeking feedback from colleagues and supervisors.

Demonstrate expertise in financial software

Accounting directors should be proficient in using financial software and other tools relevant to their industry. This not only helps in streamlining processes but also in analyzing financial data effectively. Stay updated on new technologies and software, and consider earning certifications in widely used applications like QuickBooks, Oracle, or SAP.

Pursue continuous learning and professional development

Continuous learning is essential for accounting directors to stay ahead in their field. Invest time in expanding your knowledge and skills through courses, certifications, and advanced degrees. 

Some areas to consider for professional development include:

  • Advanced financial reporting and analysis
  • International financial reporting standards
  • Taxation and tax planning
  • Risk management and internal controls
  • Financial planning and forecasting
  • Business strategy and decision-making

Focus on time management and organization

These professionals are often responsible for overseeing multiple projects and deadlines. Developing strong time management and organizational skills will help you prioritize tasks, allocate resources effectively, and ensure that your team meets its objectives. Consider using project management tools and techniques to stay organized and maintain a clear overview of your team’s progress.

Cultivate a strong ethical foundation

A strong ethical foundation is critical for maintaining the integrity of an organization’s financial reporting. Adhere to ethical standards, promote transparency, and encourage your team members to do the same. This will enhance your reputation and help build trust with stakeholders and colleagues.

Where the accounting director jobs are

Top companies

  • Deloitte
  • PwC
  • Ernst & Young
  • KPMG

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • Florida

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • LinkedIn
  • Indeed
  • Glassdoor
  • Monster.com


What are the primary roles and responsibilities of an accounting director?

Accounting directors are responsible for overseeing all aspects of an organization’s accounting and financial reporting functions. This includes managing the general ledger, preparing financial statements, ensuring regulatory compliance, coordinating internal and external audits, and implementing and maintaining internal controls. They also play a crucial role in financial planning, budgeting, and forecasting activities.

What skills and qualifications are essential for an accounting director?

To succeed in this position, accounting directors should have strong leadership, communication, and analytical skills. Being detail-oriented, highly organized, and having a solid understanding of accounting principles, practices, and regulations is vital. 

A bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance is typically required, although a master’s degree or MBA is often preferred. Professional certifications such as CPA, CMA, or ACCA can also be advantageous.

What is the role of an accounting director in financial planning and budgeting?

An accounting director plays a vital role in the financial planning and budgeting process. They collaborate with other departments to gather data, develop forecasts, and set financial targets. They also monitor budget performance, identify variances, and recommend adjustments as needed to ensure the organization remains on track to meet its financial goals.

How does an accounting director ensure regulatory compliance?

Ensuring regulatory compliance entails staying current with relevant laws and regulations, implementing policies and procedures that promote adherence to these standards, and training staff on the latest requirements. They also collaborate with internal and external auditors to ensure that financial records and reporting are accurate, complete, and compliant with applicable rules.

What is the relationship between an accounting director and external auditors?

Accounting directors work closely with external auditors during the audit process. They coordinate the provision of necessary information and documentation, address any issues or concerns raised by the auditors, and implement recommendations for improvement. This collaboration helps to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the organization’s financial reporting.

How does an accounting director manage the general ledger?

Maintaining the accuracy and completeness of the general ledger falls under the responsibility of accounting directors. Overseeing the recording of financial transactions, reviewing and approving journal entries, and ensuring that account balances are regularly reconciled are within their scope of work. They also implement and maintain internal controls to prevent errors, omissions, and fraud.

What is the role of an accounting director in developing financial policies and procedures?

An accounting director is responsible for developing, implementing, and maintaining financial policies and procedures that align with the organization’s goals and regulatory requirements. They ensure that these policies promote consistency, efficiency, and compliance across all accounting functions and help to minimize financial risks.

How does an accounting director contribute to financial strategy?

An accounting director contributes to the development and execution of an organization’s financial strategy by providing insights and recommendations based on their expertise and analysis of financial data. They work closely with senior management to identify opportunities for growth, cost savings, and risk mitigation, and help to formulate plans that support the organization’s strategic objectives.

What is the role of an accounting director in managing a team of accountants?

Accounting directors lead and manage a team of accountants and other finance professionals. Their responsibilities include hiring, training, and evaluating team members, delegating tasks, and ensuring that the workload is distributed appropriately. They also provide guidance and support to help team members develop their skills and advance their careers.

How do accounting directors stay current with industry trends and best practices?

Accounting directors stay current with industry trends and best practices by attending conferences, participating in professional organizations, and pursuing ongoing education and professional development opportunities. They also network with peers and read industry publications to stay informed about new accounting standards, emerging technologies, and evolving business practices.