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Interim work in public sector accounting

John Barker, CIPFA qualified, has extensive experience of senior management and leadership in a finance and policy/performance improvement environment within a large local authority.

He shares his experience with us about his interim work.

Having completed various consultancy and interim senior management projects since 2004, John supports a diverse range of clients, from London boroughs to charities. He also acts as an independent advisor to several public sector bodies for audit and governance remits.

What was your last role before you moved into the interim arena?
Assistant County Treasurer, Oxfordshire County Council.

What’s the average length of your assignments?
Seven months.

How did you find your transition into interim work?
I found it quite straightforward as I had a range of contacts around the country developed from my previous senior management networks.

What do you like the most about interim work?
I enjoy the variety and the range of issues that require solutions. There is also plenty of opportunity to develop new contacts and keep up to date as an independent professional. Working with organisations that value and appreciate my accumulated knowledge and practical experience is also rewarding and stimulating.

What are the common challenges you face day-to-day?
Not always being immediately accepted for what you can do as an interim - some work contacts see an interim (or ‘consultant’) as potentially having a narrow remit (or ability), forgetting that many interims have wide experience and are usually prepared to work in very flexible ways to achieve agreed objectives!

What types of projects have you been involved in recently?

  • Governance and performance improvement strategies
  • External audit/certification of grant claims, including a major European funded partnership project delivery
  • Local government pension fund audit and governance strategy

Have you found yourself relocating for work much?
Occasionally - but not a problem as I can travel and live quite flexibly!

What’s the longest period you have spent searching for a new assignment?
Approximately three months.

What characteristics would you suggest makes someone a successful interim manager?

  • Good communication and general interpersonal skills
  • Sound experience of staff/team management and leadership
  • Strong awareness/experience of the influence of political environments on decision-making and review of performance
  • Sound awareness of the influences external to organisations (e.g. relationship with central government / funding bodies/partnerships etc)
  • The ability to relate well with a wide range of personalities
  • Staying unfazed!

What advice would you give to someone looking to move into interim finance work?
I’d say go for it if you have a belief in your professional and personal abilities. Be prepared to be flexible and define when and where you are able to work, bearing you personal circumstances in mind. Keep your skills well honed and maintain your network of contacts. Be prepared to take the rough with the smooth as not all clients prepare a sound pathway for an incoming interim – in my experience anyway. But sometimes helping a client settle on the right way forward for your role as an interim becomes an enjoyable and rewarding part of a soundly developing relationship.

If you would like to discuss interim roles available via Hays, please email Donna Clarke or call 07702 952192.