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7 Characteristics of the Virtuous Internal Auditor

Blogs Richard F. Chambers, CIA, QIAL, CGAP, CCSA, CRMA Jun 27, 2019

​It is important to remind ourselves of certain core actions that should be instinctive to all practitioners.

As part of unofficial "Internal Audit Self-awareness Month," I am featuring blog posts from the past that focus on looking inward. This theme is just as vital as any effort to build awareness about our profession. We must take a realistic and hard look at what we do, how we do it, and how we are viewed by those outside of the internal audit function. In this final blog post of the series, I end on a positive note by exploring the virtues that can lead to professional success for any internal auditor.

In my previous blog post, I offered 7 Deadly Internal Audit Sins that have the potential to ruin an otherwise bright internal audit career. Now, I'd like to focus on characteristics that are essential to a successful internal audit career. I call these the 7 Internal Audit Virtues.

At first glance, these may seem obvious, but it is important to remind ourselves that these core actions should be instinctive to internal auditors. The challenges of modern internal auditing can create pressure on practitioners to act quickly and decisively. While we must be willing and able to meet those growing demands, we must remain vigilant that those pressures don't erode or overwhelm our commitment to remain true to these fundamental virtues.

Impartial and Open-minded. Nobody likes a referee who plays favorites, or an internal auditor who is biased. Internal auditors are paid to provide assurance on, among many things, other people's work. So, it should go without saying that an internal auditor's personal opinions, or biases, must be kept in check. This includes being truthful about those instances — hopefully rare — when our opinions or biases may color our work and we must recuse ourselves.

Benevolent and Altruistic. While it is essential that our reports be impartial, this doesn't mean that we can or should be impartial about the organization's best interests. When our clients know that we are genuinely working for the benefit of the organization, we are much more likely to work together effectively.

Open and Transparent. It is human nature for audit clients to be more open and trusting of auditors who are open and trusting of them. Obviously, there are special situations, such as fraud audits, when complete openness is not practical. But creating an atmosphere of openness most often tends to improve audit results. I'm referring here to transparency throughout the audit process, not just in audit reporting. If you wait until the exit conference to start discussing important findings with your client, you have waited too long.

Honest. Virtually all internal auditors recognize the importance of honesty. Occasionally, however, internal auditors forget that there can be degrees of honesty in communications. If we want management to trust our recommendations, it's important that our reports reflect all sides of the issue. And keep in mind that management, not the internal auditor, makes the ultimate decisions on how to handle issues identified in an internal audit report. Honesty is a virtue; the sin of omission is not.

Enthusiastic. Enthusiasm can be infectious. It is especially important in internal auditing because our success hinges on persuading other people to change behaviors. When we are passionate about our work, that passion can spread to our clients and colleagues. It not only increases the likelihood of positive change, it makes the audit process more engaging for all concerned.

Reliable and Dependable. Being audited can be difficult even in the best of times. An audit may detract from our clients' other commitments, and the process is made worse when we don't meet our commitments. Auditors must be counted on, and that means making deadlines and showing up to meetings on time. Otherwise, you're putting yourself and your boss in a difficult position.

Lifelong Learner. A commitment to continuing education is a virtue for anyone, but it's especially important for internal auditors. A solid foundation of technical skills and industry knowledge is crucial, and because our work encompasses the entire universe of risks facing modern businesses, a strong understanding of the complexities and nuances of business is essential. The best internal auditors tend to leave time in their schedules every week for continuing education or other self-improvement activities.

Since we are on the topic of virtues, let's not forget the virtue of volunteering. While not one of the seven cardinal audit virtues, it is certainly a way in which we can work together to improve our profession. I urge you to consider volunteering, whether within your own organization, through a local IIA chapter, or with another professional association. You can help fellow practitioners by speaking at chapter meetings, writing articles about internal auditing, participating in an internal audit peer review program, and in many other ways. Any of these activities might make a big difference in somebody's career, and you might find that the process of volunteering also makes a difference in your own career. After all, The IIA's motto is Progress Through Sharing.

Richard F. Chambers, CIA, QIAL, CGAP, CCSA, CRMA

Former president and CEO of The IIA, the global professional association and standard-setting body for internal auditors.