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How to become a payroll officer

No matter what kind of job you have, and what kind of industry you’re in, there’s one day everyone looks forward to: pay day. Getting the pays done correctly, and on time, is an important job no matter where you’re at.

How to become a payroll officer
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  • Nick Chapman
  • April 13, 2021
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Make sure you get it right, and you can really help people get on with their lives. Go the extra mile, answer people’s tricky payroll questions quickly and respectfully, generate handy reports for management, and you’ll be everyone’s favourite co-worker in no time. Put in the effort to handle multiple payroll accounts at one time, and you could even open up an exciting international career in managed payroll services. Becoming a payroll officer is a great career choice if you like working with numbers and systems, but also enjoy the feeling of helping people.

There are lots of different pathways to becoming a payroll officer. Some start out as general business administrators, with lots of different accounting and admin responsibilities, including the pay runs. Some are accounting graduates looking for a specialist role. Others start in completely different business areas and decide to train specifically in payroll to start a career with plenty of flexibility and opportunity.

The first thing to be aware of when you’re working out how to become a payroll officer is the actual tasks and outcomes you will be responsible for. From here you can work out the next step that makes sense for the skills and knowledge you already have.

Payroll roles and responsibilities

Being a payroll officer involves a lot more than just clicking a button to put through pays every week/fortnight/month. There are lots of technical skills, soft skills and different areas of responsibility and accountability. You’ll need to consider your strengths in each area, and where you could stand to learn and upskill.

Payroll responsibilities

Your day-to-day tasks will vary depending on the size of your organisation, the type of software and systems it uses, and how many other people are on your team. Here’s a general guide to things you could be responsible for:

  • Gathering invoices (independent contractors);
  • Collecting timesheets;
  • Verifying diaries/timesheets;
  • Calculating total pays;
  • Calculating tax withholding (PAYG);
  • Paying PAYG (and payroll tax if relevant) to ATO;
  • Calculating and paying super via single touch system;
  • Calculating and applying leave entitlements;
  • Processing approved leave applications;
  • Calculating and applying other entitlements, such as allowances;
  • Verifying/double-checking software entries and calculations;
  • Preparing pay runs for approval by other officer, manager, CFO etc;
  • Sending pays to employee accounts on time;
  • Preparing reports for management;
  • Answering employees’ queries on pay rates, tax, entitlements, leave accrued, etc; and
  • Updating pay and entitlements in line with regulation (e.g. minimum wage).

As you can see, some of the knowledge and skills for this role come from accounting and bookkeeping, some from human resources, some from business administration. It’s a bit of a multidisciplinary role. You need to have technical skills, including strong maths and numeracy, and ability to learn software systems. You also need to understand the importance of keeping up to date with regulatory and compliance changes.

Essential qualities of a payroll officer

Becoming a successful payroll officer isn’t just about the right technical skills and knowledge. You’ll also need to have the right attitude and ‘soft skills’; non-technical skills that you can bring in to your work as a payroll officer. The good news is that, just like technical skills, many of these are learnable. You may already have developed these characteristics through other work and life experience.

  • Written communication skills;
  • Verbal communication skills;
  • Attention to detail;
  • Sense of responsibility and accountability;
  • Diligence;
  • Patience;
  • Respect for others’ needs and rights;
  • Problem-solving abilities;
  • Initiative and proactiveness; and
  • Organisation and planning.

When you look at job ads for payroll officer positions, you’ll notice a variety of personal characteristics are required depending on the size and type of organisation. For example, in large organisations with diverse workforces, you may be liaising with employees from different cultural backgrounds. You’ll need to be aware of differences in the way they approach discussions around pay and leave. Or in organisations with lots of different types of employees, you’ll need extra organisation skills to stay up to date with changes in entitlements.

Payroll career progression

Payroll officers often have different career paths that they’ve taken to get to their current role. As mentioned before, some start with accounting or bookkeeping technical backgrounds, others with general business admin work experience. The following is just an example of payroll career progression for employees working their way up from entry-level roles.

Payroll clerk/assistant

Payroll clerks or assistants are the junior members of a payroll team. Their responsibilities include dealing with basic/routine employee queries, gathering physical timesheets, helping senior payroll officers with mass communications (like mailouts and email notices), and filing. A payroll clerk’s responsibilities may be a little more routine and basic, but it’s still a great position in which to learn the ropes before stepping up a level. Clerks and assistants often work closely with senior staff and have the opportunity to observe more challenging tasks and processes without having to be responsible for the outcomes.

Payroll coordinator/administrator

Some organisations have roles in between entry level payroll, and the officer/manager level. Payroll coordinators may oversee clerks and assistants. They’re generally responsible for a particular area or type of employee in the business. This allows them to specialise in the compliance knowledge required for that group of employees. For example, a business employing people under different national awards or with very different conventions around negotiated pay and conditions may have different payroll coordinators for each division. Alternatively, an all-rounder payroll administrator position may be created to report to (and share responsibilities with) a general office manager or business manager.

Payroll officer/manager

The position title of ‘payroll officer’ generally implies a level of independence and seniority. To become a payroll manager, you’ll generally need to have at least a few years’ experience, a formal qualification, or both. You will need to be able to take responsibility and make executive decisions around how to manage compliance with different regulations, from industry awards to tax admin rules. Whilst you may do this with the guidance of a general manager or chief financial officer, you’ll also need to have the confidence and independent decision-making skills to work out the best options for your organisation.

If you’re not yet confident in your ability to research, understand the rules and make the correct decisions, you may benefit from further study.

Your next steps to becoming a payroll officer

The Diploma of Payroll Services is Australia’s nationally recognised, standardised qualification in payroll. It’s designed to cover all the technical skills and knowledge you need to work as a payroll officer in organisations large and small. You’ll learn to work with different types of software and digital tools, and polish up those soft skills you need to be a leader and manager in payroll.

You deserve a study option that works for your busy schedule and gets you ready for the real world of payroll. Monarch Institute offers a 100 per cent online Diploma of Payroll Services that you can study at your own pace, from wherever you’ve got an internet connection. Fit study around your current work and family commitments, so you can upskill and take the next step in your career without having to upend your life. The Monarch Institute team have been delivering accounting, bookkeeping and financial courses for years, and are one of Australia’s highest rated private training provider in the paraprofessional area. Just ask the hundreds of graduates on TrustPilot. Find out more about what’s included; check out the Diploma of Payroll Services at Monarch Institute today.


Nick Chapman, chief executive, Monarch Institute

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