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​​The Internal Audit Role Progression Matrix

Addressing employee career progression can help CAEs better manage teams, improve morale, and deliver results.​

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All CAEs know the importance of managing a team of competent, motivated professionals who are interested in their work. Such a team makes a CAE's work a lot easier, and makes internal audit a better place for everyone to work.

Throughout my career I've experimented with various ways of managing people-related matters, relying mostly on experience supplemented by guidance and tools from human resources. Over time, I developed an effective set of approaches for addressing people-related matters, including those relating to the entire employee life cycle (i.e. recruiting, retention, performance management, professional development, and termination), as well as more strategic decisions such as how to set up a team structure that fits the needs of the organization. What was missing, however, was a way to integrate these approaches. To address this, I developed the Internal Audit Role Progression Matrix (Wolfe_Progression Matrix.pdf).

People Management

The matrix is a concise, single point of reference that summarizes guidance for all key people-related matters affecting internal audit. It provides a summary of important competency themes in a progressive manner linked to roles, and is supported and linked to more detailed guidance that relates to:

  • The employee life cycle, generally obtained from human resources and including guidance on organizationwide grades, performance management, and professional development.
  • Internal audit tools, guidance, and templates that relate to the engagement life cycle (i.e. planning, executing, reporting, and follow-up), the annual audit plan methodology, and annual audit committee reporting requirements.
  • Up-to-date descriptions for all roles on the internal audit team.

The matrix can guide virtually all people-related decisions and be shared with staff members to provide transparency and direction on each progressive role within internal audit — from the most junior student role to the most senior. In this way, everyone knows what is generally required for career progression — all the way to CAE — helping to minimize wasted effort or missteps along the way.

Matrix Benefits

When put into practice, the matrix provides several tangible benefits:

  • Promotes consistent treatment for all team members, builds trust, and helps prevent dissatisfaction and perceived favoritism.
  • Establishes common ground for performance evaluations. As a general rule, any team member must consistently or repeatedly demonstrate full competency in his or her current role before being promoted to a higher role. The matrix helps the supervisor and staff member evaluate whether the requirements for a particular role have been met.
  • Helps ensure that supervisors and staff align professional development efforts with key competencies for specific roles, promoting effective decisions that will enable staff to obtain or maintain key competencies required to fulfill a current role, or to progress into a more senior (or different) one.
  • Provides summary information on equivalent roles both internal and external to the organization. The matrix encourages current staff members to stay with the internal audit team — it helps them realize that they are being treated fairly in comparison to other options, and it encourages the CAE to be aware that those other options exist. It also helps smooth the transitioning of staff either into or out of internal audit.
  • Provides a foundation for developing role-specific interview questions and other criteria for evaluating candidates during the recruiting process. The questions are oriented toward determining if the candidate possesses the minimum competencies to be successful in the role.
  • Intends to align the roles with key tools and methods that guide and govern internal audit's efforts. Higher-level roles have greater responsibility with respect to using tools such as the standard engagement life cycle guidance and templates, as well as the annual internal audit cycle, which governs the creation of the audit plan and the successful delivery and reporting of results.
  • Offers a framework for developing a set of descriptions for each relevant role within the team, aligning and supporting the team's structure in a manner that progresses from the most junior role up to the CAE.
  • Helps the CAE more easily explain the people-related strategy for internal audit to his or her manager, the human resources department, and the audit committee, which increases confidence that people-related issues are being effectively managed.

Developing a Team Structure

The matrix provides a foundation for defining the overall structure of the internal audit team, based on the capacity and competency needs of the organization. It is both flexible and scalable, and can be adapted to teams of varying sizes and compositions, from small, five-person teams supporting a regional company, to large, multinational teams composed of 25 or more staff members. Roles, competencies, and requirements can be split, combined, or eliminated as required to match specific needs. Using the Internal Audit Role Progression Matrix can help CAEs better manage their teams, improve morale, and successfully deliver results.

A simplified high-level example is provided in the Internal Audit Role Progression Matrix; key terms used within the matrix are defined below.


Grade Levels – Grade levels are intended to align with those for the entire organization managed by the human resources department. Aligning the grade levels in this way sets the foundation for transitioning staff into or out of the internal audit team. In the example provided (see Role Progression Matrix), the grades are split between Technical (i.e., T1 through T3) and Managerial (M1 through M3), but they could also have been labeled in any other reasonable manner. In implementing the matrix, the grades should be adapted to the specific guidance of the organization. Information on grades for administrative roles could be easily developed and added to the matrix. In general, roles within higher grades build on key competency themes, relative minimums, and other requirements of the roles and grades beneath them, preserving the progressive nature of the matrix.

Managerial (M1 to M3) The top three grades are primarily managerial in nature, with an expectation that individuals filling roles in these grades will have well-developed technical skills as the foundation for managing the internal audit team and all other aspects of internal audit.

Technical (T1 to T3) – Persons filling roles in these grades are primarily individual contributors, but are expected to develop managerial and supervisory skills as they progress through their career. The roles also are primarily technical in nature, focused on general audit skills or other technical skills such as IT audit, integrity, and data analysis.

Managerial (and supervisory skills) are developed by staff as they progress through the Technical levels (T1 through T3), with the goal of ensuring that they will ultimately possess an adequate level of skills to consider entering the managerial stream by the time they are fully competent as a senior advisor/auditor.

The matrix is intended to be flexible enough to take the aptitude and nontraditional experience (i.e., beyond accounting or audit) of the individual into consideration when assigning roles and grades. Special exceptions also can be made to promote individual contributors into M-graded roles, but this should be reserved only for longer-term staff members who possess valuable technical skills or organizational knowledge that cannot be easily replaced. Such exceptions should be limited; the standard matrix should suit the majority of situations. As well, to promote fairness and consistency, it is recommended to take steps to avoid adjusting standard titles.

Relevant Minimum – The matrix specifies a set of relative minimums for each grade and role to promote consistency. The relative minimums are key success factors, and the set of relative minimums can always be tailored to meet specific needs, and, as with the grades, exceptions are always possible, but should be minimized. It is possible, for example, for an individual to have a combination of degree, designation, and experience that will meet the set of minimum requirements. Examples:

  • Education: generally a bachelor's degree in accounting, IT, finance, or general business.
  • Designation: CISA, CIA, CA, CPA, CMA, CGA, CRMA, CCSA.

Key Role Requirements – The categories used in this section can be adapted as required. They are largely self-explanatory. Key requirements are included; they build progressively as the grades increase.

Key Competencies – Report writing and editing and project management competencies are significantly important to internal audit roles. These competencies tend to differentiate the internal audit profession from other related disciplines, such as those within the accounting field. Special consideration must be given to ensure that individuals possess, or are developing, these competencies. Technical audit skills have not been listed, but would include knowledge about the types and quality of evidence, sampling techniques, and interviewing skills.

Internal Equivalents – Internal equivalents should be defined based on input from human resources, and will generally consider common areas for transferring in or out of internal audit, such as finance and IT.

External Equivalents – These are primarily aligned with Big 4 accounting firms, but also may be aligned with other potential sources, such as other consulting firms, and typically for roles within finance and IT (i.e., these are frequently areas where internal audit staff transition to or from). Big 4 accounting firms represent a common career reference point for most internal audit professionals.

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