15 Skills and Traits Every Payroll Administrator Needs

A payroll administrator holds a crucial role within every organisation. Their job involves handling large sums of money on a daily basis to ensure that employees are paid accurately and on time. From making complex calculations to processing payments within strict deadlines, this is a challenging, demanding and fulfilling role.

To successfully fulfil their duties, there are several skills and traits that payroll administrators need to possess.

Whether you want to take your first career steps, or seek to develop your current position, read on to find out the top professional skills and traits needed to be a payroll administrator.

1. Compliance knowledge

Having thorough compliance knowledge is essential for the role of a payroll administrator.

You can’t process payroll without abiding by a range of compliance procedures, including tax regulations and legal requirements.

To avoid heavy penalties, payroll admins need to be aware of the rules and regulations for payroll in their region – many of which are updated regularly. Therefore you must also stay afloat of compliance changes.

2. Problem-solving skills

From compliance issues and tax discrepancies to miscalculations, so many problems can arise while processing payroll.

A successful payroll administrator needs to be capable of solving any problems that may arise in a competent, logical and efficient manner. You also need to be able to anticipate potential challenges that could complicate matters further.

3. Computer and software proficiency

In this highly digital age, technology is central to modern payroll processing. From preparing payroll in Excel to working with Word documents, admins need to grasp standard programmes used at any office.

You will also need extensive working knowledge of industry software specifically designed for processing payrolls, such as Sage, Xero and QuickBooks. Knowing how to use such software will help you organise employee information, expedite payroll processes and perform your duties more effectively.

Bear in mind that developers regularly update these systems. As such, you will need to be aware of the capabilities of the platform you are using whilst keeping yourself informed of the latest updates.

4. Mathematical skills

If you’re good with numbers, then this is the job for you!

It goes without saying but being a payroll admin requires excellent numerical skills. Within this role, you will need to process complex data, numbers and calculations. Therefore a natural aptitude for maths and accounting is a must.

Having strong math skills will help you avoid mistakes and complete specific calculations, such as statutory deductions and tax reports, with greater accuracy.

5. Calmness

Staying calm under pressure reduces the likelihood of making mistakes. During any stressful situation, negativity only increases your stress levels, and when processing payroll, being stressed is far from ideal.

This can be a high-pressure role; not only do you need to perform accurate calculations while meeting performance standards, but you’re also against the clock to get those payments processed quickly. As such, you must be able to remain cool, calm and collected under pressure.

6. Organisational skills

For every pay cycle, there is a long checklist of responsibilities that need to be fulfilled. Part of your job will be to adhere to pay and tax deadlines whilst identifying any discrepancies to avoid penalties.

While you will inevitably need a good working knowledge of industry software and compliance, you also need to be highly organised to ensure all of your obligations are fulfilled adequately and on time.

7. Time management skills

Payroll administrators also require exceptional time management skills. You will need to work under strict deadlines to ensure wages are processed on time.

Being good at managing your time enables you to enhance your performance and achieve your goals in a more effective, focused way. This also reduces stress, increases productivity and enhances work quality.

8. Communication skills

In any professional environment, being able to communicate with others is a must. From fellow employees right through to upper management, you need excellent communication skills to thrive in this role.

That said, you need to have good verbal communication and great written communication abilities if you want to thrive in this role.

While payroll administration largely entails working with numbers, having excellent writing skills in the workplace should never be overlooked. This will allow you to communicate clearly and quickly, whether via email, a memo or the office Slack channel.

9. Customer service skills

This job involves a lot of back-and-forth with customers, especially if you outsource your payroll services. It’s essential to offer first-rate customer service, as this is what attracts and retains customers.

Businesses can benefit from a loyal following, positive testimonials and customer referrals, all of which will reflect positively on you and help you in progressing your career.

10. Discretion

A big part of this role involves dealing with personal data. Therefore, you must show discretion, especially when handling classified information.

Payroll administrators are integral to any organisation, and you must respect the confidentiality of the data you are processing. You must also ensure that you are abiding by certain rules and regulation to protect sensitive data. To achieve this, you will need to be familiar with your organisation’s security and privacy protocols.

11. Attention to detail skills

As you will be working with numbers, keeping records and handling private data, having sharp attention to detail is vital for success. The tiniest error can lead to significant consequences, especially when it comes to legislation and data protection.

12. Initiative

To do your work efficiently, you must be willing to take initiative. This includes recognising areas in your systems that could be improved and coming up with effective solutions to resolve ongoing issues.

Having the ability to take initiative will highlight your self-awareness, insight and drive to perform your duties well and advance professionally. Indeed, thinking ahead, taking action and always going the extra mile will do wonders for developing your career.

13. Administration skills

Beyond essential payroll duties, payroll administrators may need to manage office administrative tasks. As such, performing clerical responsibilities, such as coordinating meetings, reviewing records and maintaining files, will certainly come in handy.

Having good administration skills will facilitate processes and ensure a consistent, high-quality working environment, contributing to the company’s advancement and yours.

14. Business acumen

Of course, payroll administrators need to have expertise in their area to excel. However, if you are looking to advance your career, you should be prepared to learn about other aspects, including accounting, human resources, internal audit and so on.

The greater your knowledge of complex business operations is, the more likely you’ll be to advance to a managerial role.

15. Teamwork skills

Yes, teamwork is essential in most modern business environments, but in your profession, being capable of working with others is particularly important.

You will need to work closely with your own and other department members professionally and diplomatically. You may also be required to lead a team and coordinate with colleagues, clients, board members and different department heads on a range of payroll matters.

As a payroll administrator, you should cultivate a mixture of skills to distinguish you as an asset to individual organisations. Of course, through experience and lifelong learning, you can gradually develop and refine these skills, which will help you excel in this position!

What other skills do you think are important to perform well in this role? Let us know in the comments section below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 19 December 2016.

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