Communication skills were cited as the greatest need by 31% of the executives interviewed, according to the Accountemps staffing and consulting services firm that is part of recruiting firm Robert Half International. The need for stronger leadership skills was noted by 26%. Meanwhile, 14% said "functional, job-related skills" were those most needed, and 12% each voted for strategic planning and project management.

"No matter how skilled someone is in a particular job, if he or she is a poor communicator, advancement opportunities are limited," Max Messmer, Accountemps chairman, said in a press release describing the survey. "The ability to effectively convey a point verbally and in writing can be a key predictor of leadership potential."

Accountemps, which had an independent firm send out the questionnaires, conducts a series of such surveys among finance executives each year. A previous survey this fall tracked the growing tendency among companies to allow or encourage remote workers.

The latest survey, showing the importance of soft skills in the view of finance chiefs, led Accountemps to devise a list of tips for improved communication. They include:

Paying attention to detail, including by proofreading draft reports and emails. "Even minor typos and grammatical errors send an unfavorable impression," Accountemps said. "Vague or unclear instructions can lead to costly misunderstandings and unnecessary back and forth."

So-called soft finance skills -- those involving communication and leadership -- trumped basic functional job capabilities in a recent survey of 1,400 CFOs asking what finance-department areas most required improvement. Listening more carefully, focusing "on what is being said rather than trying to formulate a response in your head while the other person is still speaking."

Examining "nonverbal cues" being sent out, such as those from poor body language, including "crossed arms, fidgety fingers or a tense expression." Related advice involved avoiding distracted responses, such as "looking out the window, checking your smartphone or glancing at your watch while someone's talking."

Practicing, including by rehearsing presentations, and perhaps taking a public speaking course.