In Search of the Perfect Auditor

The definition of an auditor, according to section 3.9.9 of ISO 9000:2000, is a “person with the competence to conduct an audit”. This definition may seem simple, but identifying and developing competent auditors is not easy. Before looking at the necessary skills and traits for an auditor, let’s remember the role of an auditor is to assess conformity of the quality management system from three perspectives:

1. Does the defined and documented system conform to the specified requirements?
2. Has the organization implemented the declared quality management system?
3. Do the measures and results show the system has been effectively implemented?

Or, did they say what they want to do, are they doing it, and are they doing it well?

To make these assessments, an auditor’s responsibilities include:

  • Review available documents
  • Prepare process checklists
  • Audit the assigned areas
  • Stay within the audit scope
  • Keep to the audit timetable
  • Follow the audit procedure
  • Audit conformity and effectiveness
  • Take notes and record evidence
  • Keep the auditee informed
  • Remain impartial and objective
  • Seek acknowledgments
  • Act in an ethical manner
  • Safeguard privileged information
  • Complete nonconformity forms
  • Explain findings at closing meeting
  • Verify corrective actions 

The lead auditor of an audit team has additional responsibilities:

  • Prepare the audit plan
  • Define auditor assignments
  • Brief the audit team
  • Review auditor checklists
  • Manage the audit team
  • Perform as one of auditors
  • Handle any difficult situations
  • Inform auditee of major obstacles
  • Report critical problems immediately
  • Prepare the verbal report
  • Make decisions on audit issues
  • Chair the closing meeting
  • Submit the written audit report
  • Collect audit records for filing

So, we know what an auditor is, and what an auditor should do, but what personal traits or characteristics would be helpful?

Ethical Conduct
Ethical conduct is the foundation of auditor professionalism. It builds trust and confidence. An ethical auditor is honest, forthright, and reliable. People know that information they share will not be improperly used or disclosed.

Fair Presentation
Auditors have an obligation to report their findings truthfully and accurately. They should identify any significant obstacles encountered during the audit. Likewise, they should note any unresolved, diverging opinions between the audit team and auditee. The report should highlight that the audit was a sample during a brief period of time and unreported nonconformities may still exist.

Due Professional Care
Management has given auditors an important task. Therefore, auditors should apply good judgment and diligence in their assignment. Auditors should ensure they have the needed competence and exercise care while conducting audits.

Attributes of a good auditor would include being:

  • Personable
  • Truthful
  • Analytical
  • Impartial
  • Objective
  • Diplomatic
  • Observant
  • Perceptive
  • Open-minded
  • Tenacious
  • Decisive  

Communication Skills
Auditors communicate in audit meetings, interviews, and reports. The communication process involves a sender, a message, and a receiver. For effective communication, the recipients of a message must not only receive it, and they must understand it.

Auditors ask questions, share interpretations, and report results (verbally and in writing). Ensure the communication conveys the right meaning. Avoid facial expressions, speech tone, and body language that may send the wrong message.
 
Interpersonal Skills
Auditors should be pleasant individuals. They need the cooperation of others to identify requirements, understand processes, gather facts, and make judgments. For example:

  • Put the person to be interviewed at ease
  • Ask short questions and listen carefully
  • Reflect the right attitude and tone of voice
  • Smile and show eye contact
  • Avoid any condescending remarks
  • Give praise when appropriate
  • Show interest in the person’s work
  • Be tactful and polite in your comments
  • Show patience and understanding
  • Remember to say please and thank you

Auditor Fairness
To build trust and rapport, auditors should remember to:

  • Assess for conformity
  • Identify positive points
  • Take representative samples
  • Avoid nit-picking approach
  • Stop unnecessary digging

Auditor Competence
The competence of an auditor affects the auditee confidence in the audit results. A competent auditor has the skills and traits to effectively carry out their assigned duties.

In addition to the training to increase their auditing skills, auditors should be selected that demonstrate the suggested personal traits. To maintain their competence, auditors must be given audit assignments on a regular schedule (at least 4 times per year). The audit program manager should provide opportunities for continued development and share performance feedback for improvement.