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The Effective Internal Auditor: 7 Key Attributes

By Neil Amato

As the role of the internal auditor shifts, through regulatory changes or a more volatile economy, so, too, do the skills required to do the job well.

The skills shift is demonstrated by what companies expect of the internal audit function. Technical skills are a prerequisite, but those skills alone are not enough as the job’s scope broadens.

“The evolution of the skills of internal audit professionals is aligning with, or is corresponding to, the evolution of the profession itself,” said Richard Chambers, chief executive and president of the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA).

Chambers was the co-author of a recent reportSucceeding as a 21st Century Internal Auditor: 7 Attributes of Highly Effective Internal Auditors. The report, produced by the IIA and global staffing firm Robert Half, listed these seven traits:

  • Integrity: While important in any business setting, it’s especially vital in internal audit, the report says. Internal auditors need to be trustworthy but also have confidence and resilience when faced with complex problems.
  • Relationship building: Credibility must be built over time, so don’t start getting to know someone right before the audit engagement. Trust and collaboration are more likely when people know each other well.
  • Partnering: The ability to partner enables internal auditors to execute effectively, balancing a customer service orientation with the ability to meet regulatory requirements.
  • Communication: Concise, compelling reports are part of this skill, as well as the ability to listen and to know the best format in which to present information.
  • Teamwork: Working well with others is required in a collaborative environment. “I don’t want someone here if they cannot function on a team,” Karl Erhardt, senior vice president and general auditor at MetLife, said in the report.
  • Diversity: Internal auditors must take on a global mind-set and be cognisant of cultural norms.
  • Continuous learning: Nonstop curiosity helps even the most experienced auditors gain new insight. As business needs shift, professionals should be proactive about developing new areas of expertise. “If you want to be successful, you have to be willing to invest in yourself,” Chambers said.

These attributes mainly fall into the category of soft skills, and more and more those skills are required, not desired.

“The nontechnical skills – writing skills, solid presentation skills – have really become mandatory,” said Paul McDonald, Chambers’s co-author and a senior executive director at Robert Half. “As employees advance up the company’s org chart, the skills become more critical.”

Related CGMA Magazine content:

Budget, Staff Projected to Rise for Internal Audit Departments”: A fall 2012 survey by the IIA shows that most companies plan to maintain or increase staff and budgets for internal audit. The report also listed the top risk categories audit executives planned to focus on in 2013.

Internal Audit: The Importance of Being ‘Soft’ ”: Companies are increasingly turning to internal auditors to identify operational risks, provide business advice and analyse information at the speed of light. With so much on internal
auditors’ plates, effective communication can easily be overlooked.

Internal Auditors Must Focus More Attention on Strategy”: While contingency planning for macroeconomic events remains a concern for internal auditors, another hot spot is strategy creation and execution. Research by the Corporate Executive Board detailed the top areas of concern for 2013.

Neil Amato (namato@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.

This article was originally published on 18 March 2013 in CGMA Magazine.