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
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
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
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?