Become a Better Auditor

The following article appeared in Issue 6 of INform, the online magazine from the International Register of Certificated Auditors. For more information, go to (http://www.irca.org/inform/issue6/front_cover.htm). 

For many auditors, the job has become one of ever greater demands. At one end of the scale there is the strain of increasing paperwork burdens. At the other there is a client who your company wants as a customer, but who you know does not meet the requirements of the standard. With high levels of stress and falling job satisfactionwhat personal skills does an auditor need?

ISO 19011:2002 highlights a number of principles for auditors, like ethical conduct, fair presentation, due professional care, independence, and an evidence-based approach. The standard goes on to set out the personal attributes that will enable auditors to act in accordance with the principles of auditing and these are:

  • ethical
  • open minded
  • diplomatic
  • observant
  • perceptive
  • versatile
  • tenacious
  • decisive
  • self reliant

But as well as these skills, there are other qualities and attributes that a good auditor needs.

The ability to gather evidence

All auditors need to be able to gather audit evidence. In environmental auditing, much evidence can be gathered using the senses. It requires an inquisitive stance and the desire to find out what is actually happening. Auditors will also need to be able to engage in a wide range of topics and ask all manner of questions. It is important to stay focused and not to become side-tracked by areas that are not directly relevant to the audit.

Sorting evidence and decision making

Once audit evidence has been gathered it needs to be sorted into what is relevant and what is not. In assessing audit evidence, there also needs to be a decision-making process. This is usually against the criteria that the audit is being conducted against: the standard and the client’s documented management system. This process should be conducted in a detached way, but it may be at the end of a long day before giving feedback to the client.

Putting the picture together
 
Auditors need to be able to understand systems and how they work. This requires the ability to quickly formulate a picture of the client’s management system, the organization, and the key features within it. A good auditor should then be able to work out an understanding of the cause and effect linkages within the client’s management system. This is also the level where audit planning takes place. Putting the audit plan together requires an appreciation of the audit flow and what would constitute a logical sequence of events.

People skills

Auditors need to have exceptional people skills and the ability to deal with all types of people. For many auditees, the auditor may be feared and not particularly welcome. So, having the ability to put people at ease and understand life from the auditee’s perspective is an important quality. It is also important for auditors to show respect. It is, after all, the auditee who is paying for the auditor’s time.

Audit management

All audits have a certain dynamic which is unique to the organization being audited. The auditor needs to have the ability to manage the audit process against the audit program. This means ensuring that the pace of the audit is right for the program. The pace has to be set within the limits of what both the audit team and the client organization can sustain.

Vision and instinct

Many auditors have the ability to walk into an organization and within a short period of time have an instinctive knowledge of what the state of play is within that organization. When considering audit findings, a good auditor will be able to build a picture of what the situation is within an organization and then translate that into what it might mean for the organization in the future.

Adhering to the rules

All audits have rules; from the rules within the clauses of the management systems standard through to the organization’s own rules for conducting audits. A good auditor needs to understand those rules and make sure that they are adhered to. This often stems from a lack of understanding of the specific requirements of a particular clause.

Leadership

Leadership is obviously a quality needed by lead auditors. A good audit team leader is someone who is accomplished across many of the skills needed for auditing and who has the ability to demonstrate this to others.

Letting the client decide

When they reach a certain level of proficiency, some auditors like to think that they know best and start to advise the client accordingly. In fact, the auditor is simply presenting an accurate picture of the state of play. It is for the organization to determine what direction it will subsequently choose to take.

A personal development program

You can make some sort of assessment on the above qualities and work out your strengths and weaknesses. Some people might be good at adhering to a line, for example, but are not so good at working with people. Others may be good at finding audit evidence and not so good at building it into a picture.

Most auditors get feedback and this can be very useful to in terms of discovering where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Planning for change is the important first step. There is no right or wrong way, but the main thing is to have a plan to clarify what you want to accomplish.

James Smith of Sustainability Training Advice Review in the UK was the author of the above article and can be contacted at (james@sustainabilityconsultants.com).