Nearly every internal auditor will experience political pressure at some point during his or her career. The situation may involve a request to bury audit findings, threats of retribution for perceived disloyalty, or even physical intimidation. In a worst-case scenario, escalation could lead to loss of employment. Nonetheless, practitioners must be willing to meet these challenges, deliver tough messages when necessary — even if it means risking damage to their career — and position themselves to withstand the discomfort and distress. In other words, auditors need to establish a foundation of security, both personal and professional, to weather tough political times.
To be clear, security should not be confused with complacency. The IIA’s International Standards for the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing sets high expectations for internal auditors, and those expectations should be met by all practitioners. Internal auditors have a duty to both the profession and themselves to perform to their fullest capabilities and deliver value to stakeholders — both of which are accomplished through hard work and professional competency. Security underpins these efforts, bolstering them with support systems, contingency plans, and a reliable safety net.
Although specific needs will vary, internal auditors can achieve security — both professional and personal — in several ways. Professionally, auditors can increase their peace of mind by obtaining credentials such as the Certified Internal Auditor, familiarizing themselves with the latest best practices, maintaining a network of colleagues for mentorship and camaraderie, and continuously striving to improve. Moreover, practitioners can reinforce their professional development efforts by making sure they enjoy and take pride in what they do and remain grateful for the opportunity to serve the organization.
Personal security is achieved largely through financial planning efforts. The topic has been addressed in many books and research studies and should be a priority for anyone, regardless of profession. Simply stated, internal auditors, like anyone else, must attain financial security through the practice of lifelong, disciplined saving and investing. Basic steps include ensuring access to cash for life’s emergencies, minimizing or eliminating debt, saving a percentage of one’s income every month, and maintaining savings to cover monthly living expenses over a reasonable time horizon (i.e., a “rainy day” fund).
Internal auditing is not an easy profession — practitioners are expected to perform high-quality, value-added work while maintaining integrity and withstanding adversity. But we are also human, and subject to the influence of political pressure. How might your approach to audit work be different if you had adequate savings, no debt, and a robust professional network? The less political pressure plays a role in audit decision-making, the better the outcome for practitioners, stakeholders, and the organization.