PracticeAccounting FirmsFirms’ power base often ‘ambiguous’

Firms' power base often 'ambiguous'

Partnership structures often make it hard to nail down who wields the power in a firm, finds Cass Business school professor Laura Empson

AN ACCOUNTING FIRM’s power base doesn’t necessarily sit at the top with the management team, a report has suggested.

In the report Who’s in Charge?, by professor Laura Empson of Cass Business School, she finds ambiguities in what is expected of those placed in leadership roles with professional services firms. Structures that include a managing and senior partner often have little in the way of delineation in duties. Other examples show that the collegiate nature of partnerships sees an ‘unsaid’ devolution of power among individuals.

In some examples, ambiguity in terms of the powerbase can be valuable in the decision-making process.

Where a core group of partners effectively hold power, individuals can use their political skills to “wield considerable power”, where overall leadership is ambiguous. “If they are among the few who really understand the leadership dynamics within the firm, then they are in a particularly strong position to influence them,” the report states.

The research saw an in-depth study and interviews with three large professional service firms. Additional research on the relationship between service line heads and managing partners saw more than 40 interviews undertaken. Another 700 sources were consulted during the process.

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