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​New Times Require New Competencies​

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Once upon a time, all one needed to be a successful internal auditor was a mechanical pencil, a 16-column ledger, some accounting skills, and the ability to affix a bayonet to take on the wounded.

Well, that may be overstating it a bit, but the profession has definitely moved from a backward-facing, numbers-only approach to a future-facing, strategy, and big-picture focus. And that means the skills and competencies required of internal auditors have changed. When I first started, the No. 1 requirement was an accounting degree. That is no longer true. (At least, it is not true for those internal audit departments that understand the imperatives now driving the profession. Let’s not spend too much time on those who have not caught on.)

Soft skills now trump hard ones.

Even a cursory review of professional publications and thought pieces will give you a glimpse of how widespread the belief is that internal auditors need to enhance their soft skills. Critical thinking, communications, relationship management, lifelong learning, integrity, flexibility, leadership, business acumen, etc., etc., etc. The list of necessary skills is becoming very long, but very important.

This all comes from an increased recognition that basic skills are not enough. Those skills we thought of as making us stand out are no longer the pinnacle of our careers, but the baseline upon which we have to build.

As a profession, we are in the midst of redefining what it means to be a “skilled” internal auditor.

In my most recent post (I bet you thought I forgot I was going to come back to this subject), I began discussing a blog post from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) that talked about the competencies necessary for a freelancer to be successful. As part of this discussion, I emphasized my belief that the successful internal auditor is the one who embraces an entrepreneurial spirit. (For the sake of this discussion, I feel “entrepreneur” is a better word than “freelancer.”) My post ended with a discussion of the challenges faced by entrepreneurs and how those challenges parallel those faced by internal auditors.

But all of that was really only the introductory portion of CCL’s blog post. The crux of the piece was actually about the competencies entrepreneurs need to succeed. Those competencies were flexibility, learning agility, relationship management, resilience, risk-taking, self-awareness, and tolerating ambiguity

When I first read the piece, I was struck by how these competencies mirror those needed by successful internal auditors. And, as I worked on this blog post, I found more and more resonance, to the point where I​ realized this was a topic that required more exploration.

The value of some of the listed competencies may be obvious to you; others, maybe not so much. But, ultimately, I think these seven competencies make an excellent starting point and foundation for exploring what it takes to be a successful internal auditor.

So, rather than race through the topic, I’m going to spend a little time. Over the next few Fridays I will be sharing my thoughts on each one of these competencies — in particular, why they are so important to internal audit. Just to mix things up, I will also try to post on other subjects during the week. But, for a while, Fridays will be dedicated to this topic.

Until then, take a look at these competencies and let me know your thoughts. Do you think they are important? Are some a complete waste? And what is missing?​

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