Payroll Directors


Education and Training Requirements

High School

A high school degree is the initial step in preparing for a job in payroll management. Almost all entry level jobs leading to a management career in the payroll fields require completion of a high school education. Classes at the high school level should include math, English and business. Classes which teach or enhance computer skills may also be beneficial.

Postsecondary Education

A bachelor’s degree is generally required for advanced management positions in the payroll area. A master’s degree is not mandatory, though may be suggested as a requirement for specific position as a Director of Payroll, and will give prospective candidates a significant edge over others. The educational route taken by those working as payroll managers or directors can differ. Many individuals obtain their degree with majors in math, accounting, tax, computer or related fields, while some focus on business and management subjects. Those candidates with post-secondary education which includes varied courses integral to payroll, management, and human resources will be most likely to obtain management level positions. A master's degree in business administration (MBA) evidences an advanced level of education and knowledge in the field and will likely be the most sought after individuals to fill the position of payroll director in large organizations.


The most widespread and commonly recognized certifications for those in the payroll field are the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). Both designations are granted by the American Payroll Association (APA). 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

There are no certification or licensing requirements for payroll directors. However, some positions are held by Certified Public Accountants.

Voluntary certification is available through the American Payroll Association. The most widespread and commonly recognized certifications for those in the payroll field are the Fundamental Payroll Certification (FPC) and the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP). To be eligible to take the Certified Payroll Professional exam, a candidate needs to have between 18 months and three years of payroll experience, and depending on experience, needs a certain number of APA approved and sponsored courses. The Fundamental Payroll Certification exam, also administered exclusively by the APA, is for entry level payroll professionals and does not require previous experience. The APA certifications evidences certain levels of competency and expertise in the payroll area, and are frequently considered by employers, and sometimes required. There are other certifications available, but they are primarily granted by private educational facilities, and are granted after a specific program, rather than being considered as industry wide standards.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Payroll directors must have experience with payroll processes and processing. In addition to a strong competence in business, math, and finance, they must have a working knowledge of federal and state laws and regulations impacting salary and payroll. Successful payroll directors are detail oriented and painstakingly careful in their analyses. They need to project trust, reliability, integrity, and honesty, as they are dealing with important finances of an organization and its employees. Experience with and knowledge of payroll software and differing payroll systems is critical. As the payroll director will oversee a department or other payroll employees, they must be able to effectively hire, supervise, manage, train, and evaluate their staff, and work as part of a team with other upper level management in the organization.