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Payroll Manager Career Guide

Do you have excellent attention to detail? Are you a good leader, computer literate, and have an abundance of discretion? Then becoming a payroll manager might be the perfect role for you. 

A payroll manager is responsible for all aspects of preparing and distributing employees’ payments. They maintain payroll records, calculate taxes, balance payroll accounts, and oversee the work of the payroll staff.

A payroll manager supervises the production and timely delivery of payrolls and understands payroll systems to accurately pay employees in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. They assure proper tax treatment, accounting, and disposition of withholdings, such as taxes, deductions for benefits, charitable contributions, retirement contributions, other savings, etc. Payroll managers typically work closely with the human resources and accounting departments and are found in a wide range of industries.

Sample job description

Our payroll manager will be responsible for all of the activities related to the preparation and settlement of the company’s weekly payroll in the United States. This includes our workday payroll system management and administration and responsibility for payroll taxes, accounting, and reconciliation. You’ll also manage the processing of payroll for all clients according to their monthly, semi- monthly, or bi-weekly calendar, in multi-state environments, including manual/cash payroll clients. As an ideal candidate, you have proven experience in payroll administration and in-depth knowledge of payroll regulations, processes, and functions. You are analytical, methodical, and possess strong organizational skills and attention to detail.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Implements and manages payroll procedures and processing systems
  • Prepares payroll reports, including savings deductions, exemptions, and insurance coverage
  • Calculates federal and state income taxes, social security taxes, unemployment payments, and workers compensation payments
  • Manages the payroll team, providing training and guidance as needed
  • Issues checks, direct transfers, or other payment methods to employees
  • Recruits, interviews, hires, and trains new staff
  • Handles payroll updates for new hires, terminations, and changes to pay rates
  • Identifies and recommends updates to payroll processing software, systems, and procedures

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in finance, business management, accounting, or a related field
  • 3-5 years of related experience

Required skills and qualifications

  • Strong knowledge of the payroll functions and processes
  • Excellent organizational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Solid analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Excellent leadership skills
  • Proficient with Microsoft Office Suite or related software
  • Proficient with payroll software
  • Excellent communication skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Master’s degree in human resources, finance, business administration, or related field
  • Prior supervisory experience
  • Experience with PeopleSoft or Oracle
  • Experience in payroll tax preparation

Typical work environment

Payroll managers typically work in office environments where they often lead a team of payroll professionals. They work closely with accounting and human resource departments. Payroll managers might sit at a desk working on a computer for long periods, but they also attend meetings, lead training sessions, and manage payroll activities.

Payroll managers work in a wide variety of companies and industries as payroll services are an essential part of nearly every company. Although most payroll managers provide payroll and human resources support for all manner of large and small organizations, some work for payroll service providers, managing the payroll for clients.

Typical hours

Payroll managers typically work a 40-hour week during regular business hours, Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM. Occasional overtime may be required to meet payroll deadlines.

Available certifications

Many institutions offer certifications for payroll managers. Here are some of the more popular certifications available:

  • Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). Offered by the American Payroll Association (APA), the CPP certification proves your knowledge in the areas of core payroll concepts, compliance, paycheck calculation, payroll processes and supporting systems, payroll administration and management, audits, and accounting. Candidates must have a combination of professional experience and education to qualify to sit for the CPP exam. Certification is valid for 5 years. CPPs must earn at least 120 recertification credit hours during the 5 years to achieve recertification.
  • Certified Payroll Specialist (CPS). The CPS certification is accredited by the National Association of Certified Payroll Specialists (NACPS) and validates your knowledge and skills in using QuickBooks, as well as your experience in payroll and accounting. Eligibility requirements include an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in accounting or equivalent, such as completing an approved certificate program. Candidates must also have 2,000 hours of bookkeeping, accounting, or payroll experience. They must agree to abide by the professional code of conduct and pass a three-part exam. In order to maintain certification, CPSs will need to complete 16 hours of continuing professional education annually.
  • Certified Payroll Manager. The Certified Payroll Manager designation enhances your knowledge and skills in the basics of wages, paycheck fundamentals, payroll reporting requirements, and payroll operations. Candidates will learn the requirements, processes, and procedures they need to advance their careers. Training covers all aspects of payroll, such as how to properly classify workers, apply for various exemptions, calculate gross pay, and properly make deductions, properly identify, pay, and withhold taxes for employees, administer deferred compensation, sick pay, and other compensation, and much more.

Career path

To become a payroll manager, you typically need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in finance, business management, accounting, or another relevant field. Earning a master’s degree in human resources, finance, or business administration is highly beneficial and can help advance your career and your earning potential. Some companies may require a master’s degree.  

Gaining several years of experience in related positions is essential to becoming a payroll manager. An entry-level position might be as a payroll clerk, HR assistant, payroll administrative assistant, bookkeeping processor, or entry-level auditor. Payroll professionals with years of experience, who have a solid understanding of payroll concepts and practices, good leadership qualities, and are detail-oriented, are strong candidates for a role as a payroll manager. 

Earning a voluntary certification can help accelerate your career as a payroll manager by demonstrating your knowledge and skills. Some employers require certifications for payroll manager positions.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 11-3111

2020 Employment18,700
Projected Employment in 203019,400
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 4% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift700 increase

Cloud payroll processing is growing, and that growth is expected to continue. The reason is that cloud payroll applications enable employees to access data remotely, which is essential as the shift toward working from home continues to evolve. Cloud payroll applications also allow payroll departments to access payroll data from anywhere without interruption. This allows businesses to scale up or down more easily as well. 

Payroll technology is advancing the payroll process. Payroll processing no longer takes weeks to complete. Payroll programs that provide real-time data are allowing up-to-the-minute payroll commitments. Payroll technology is also eliminating the need for spreadsheets by automating workflows around payroll processes, making payroll departments more efficient, accurate, and transparent. Everything happens in real-time with built-in exceptions, so supervisors, managers, and all employees can access payroll-related information anytime and anywhere.