How do Senior Managers make Partner?

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17 Jun 2019

At some point in their career, many accountants will attempt the leap from professional to partner. 

For some, it’s an easy step to make. They have learnt what it takes to attract clients, keep them satisfied and lead with confidence. 

For others, it can be a frustrating experience in which they arrive on the other side battered and bruised.

Historically partners at firms considered the leap a matter of natural selection - a survival of the fittest. But the partnership landscape has changed in recent times.

Instead of the traditional ‘up and out’ model that rewarded most accountants for their longevity and dedication, changes in the marketplace and increased competition has required firms to modify their pathway to partnership. 

Today, the pathway to partnership often takes longer, can include a lateral move and requires accountants to demonstrate their business development skills.

Many firms single out individuals as potential partners in the early stages of their career. 

We spoke to Ian Smith Chair of Sunday Times Top 100 firm Bishop Fleming on what a modern day Partner looks like -

“In a world with increasing technology and AI, a partner’s ability to build relationships with their clients through empathy and emotional intelligence to guide them through their decisions is more important than ever. 

The old school, unsubtle approach of the highest paid partners being the ones that kill, and therefore eat, the most, is not going to motivate or engage aspirational leaders of the future who want to feel their working life has value. Coaching, mentoring and developing the teams around them are the leadership skills that will really set a good partner out from the crowd. 

Any good leader needs to really know their people – what makes them tick, what is going on in their lives, what are their career goals and aspirations. Understand those aspects – and genuinely care about their people’s success – and walk the talk with honesty and consistency - and partners can really lead world class businesses.”


So how do you become one of the select few? 

First and foremost, beyond the primary importance of developing new business and client relationships, having the technical proficiencies is still a given when looking to make partner. 

You need to deliver the work as well as win it. So technical competence is something that must be embodied into an individual’s career early on. However, it is clear that technical work and expertise is not a clear differentiator. 

Partners are highly driven individuals who exude self-confidence. Those who are striving to make partner, need to demonstrate that they can move effortlessly with senior executives in client firms and that they can generate revenue. 

The likes of Big 4 firms are packed with extremely competent technical specialists but what really makes someone stand out on the pathway to partnership, is their ability to generate fee income. 

What’s more, clients need to be kept happy. New business needs to be generated and delivered; new service lines need to be developed and for personal career strategies, hopeful partners need to be seen as less technical and more strategic. 

What it really comes down to is being seen as a ‘trusted business advisor’. 

You have to be seen to be market facing, building client relationships. You have to have the ability to interact with senior business people and have them want to come to you for your opinion. 

As an individual, you are expected to be creating 'trusted advisor' relationships with influential people, who will then use you as their route into the firm’s services. Therefore, partners are multi-faceted. They are commercially savvy, in touch with client concerns, understanding the array of services that might be of use. 

Social skills are another crucial asset that a potential partner needs to possess. Clients want to actively associate with specific partners, those who can hold relevant conversations and who they actually want to spend time with. 

What other characteristics enable firms to identify future partnerships? 


The long-term health of any organisation is firmly rooted in its ability to market itself and win new business, which can mean that any partner within a practice is expected to spot opportunities that will ultimately benefit the firm as a whole and not just their area of expertise.

When firms are looking for people with partnership potential, they are looking for fee earners who are keen to become involved in the firm’s business development activities and have the ability to identify potential opportunities.

Building and maintaining a loyal client following assists you in your chances to make partner. Progressively, clients are expecting their professional adviser to be more than a technical specialist and you must be able to utilise your commerciality to ensure you benefit your clients.

Demonstrate commitment to the firm, vision and clients

When you become partner, you have to be 100% committed to making that business a success. Consequently, partners are already looking for the next generation of partners to demonstrate their commitment to making the firm a success. 

Leadership and Management

Being a successful partner is not just about your ability to lead and manage others, but also around how well you are able to self-lead and self-manage. When you make partner you technically become your own boss. 

Partners will typically be looking out for individuals who show good leadership and management potential by; working well within a team, committed to achieving outstanding results and driving their career. 

Thinking Skills

The biggest asset any firm has is the minds of their people. The great thing about dealing with clients is that regardless of where you are in your career, you will always need to think on your feet.

As your career progresses, you will need to be able to spot opportunities for your clients and the firm. If there is one certainty in your life as an accountant, it is requirement to utilise your thinking skills on a daily basis.  

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