Wanted: A New, Soft Set of Skills for Internal Auditors

Brian Christensen, Managing Director Global Leader, Internal Audit and Financial Advisory
May is International Internal Audit Awareness Month. We are Internal Audit Awareness Month logocelebrating with a series of blog posts focused on internal audit topics and the daily challenges and future of the internal audit profession.

 

 

What I described in my previous posts, here, here and here, is a new kind of internal auditor – a well-connected and socially savvy strategist equally capable of understanding and explaining complex analytics and of winning the right to be heard. So what are the characteristics and traits that this kind of internal auditor will need to possess to be successful?

This is a topic we will revisit over the next 18 months or so, as we pore over the mountain of information we’ve gathered in the CBOK Stakeholder Survey. It is critically important, because while the basics of a financial and accounting background remain fundamental to our mission of assurance, it will be our success as communicators that will drive our transformation, as a profession, into the trusted advisers we aspire to be.

Think of the chief audit executives you know. What made them valuable contributors? Communication? Flexibility? Adaptiveness? Are those characteristics that you would normally use to describe yourself or members of your team? If you are a director or senior executive reading this, are these characteristics that describe your chief auditor?

The traditional education gained coming up through an audit, finance, IT or accounting  background remains pertinent, but what about those other skills, especially the ability to communicate? What does that mean? Think about the effective communicators whom you’ve seen interact with the C-suite. What makes them successful? First, they listen and, second, they ask focused questions to discover the real issues and problems that merit solving. They are able to get to the point quickly and articulate complex issues and relevant ideas and solutions in a way others can understand. That makes them relevant. To top it off, they likely have a very good notion about when to speak up, picking up on non-verbal cues as necessary.

Augmenting the communications side, today’s internal auditor needs to be flexible and agile enough to be comfortable with change. As an auditor, how dynamic is your audit plan? Are you willing to take things off and redirect your focus when a major unusual transaction or event occurs?  What happens when management decides to circle the wagons when a major supply chain disruption occurs, or a significant product recall? Are you engaged with management and the board to take into consideration these types of situations?

As I mentioned before, we, as the internal audit function, can help give a common language to assist in guiding the organization, both the business leaders and the board, around this conversation. Boards want to understand what’s going on. Because of the direct reporting relationship of  auditors to boards of directors, they can be that liaison who reports and provides information going forward.

And that wraps up my recap of the 2016 CBOK Survey. I look forward to hearing about all the ways you are evolving your internal audit function, developing and strengthening stakeholder relationships. To access the webinar discussion, click here and sign in to view the archived version.

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