You’ve heard the jokes, I’m sure: “How do you tell an extroverted accountant? He’s the one that looks at your shoes when he’s talking to you.”
The idea that accountants and, by association, auditors are introverts is, of course, a long-standing trope born in the days of the back-office bean counter. It’s a misnomer that’s been difficult to shake, even as internal auditors have risen in importance and influence in most organizations, and companies have staffed audit departments with well-rounded, dynamic professionals.
Yet the view that internal auditors are task-oriented loners persists. Many still see them as the hall monitors of corporate America. Plenty of managers in operational roles view the internal audit with guarded apprehension, fearing they are being policed by the auditors and their findings.
It may be that independence and objectivity necessitate an arm’s length relationship. But, as many auditors know, it doesn’t need to be that way. Auditors aren’t just capable of playing the role of strategic partner and influencer, they are good at it.
In fact, in a recent survey published by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) auditors cited personal skills as among their greatest assets. During self-assessments they ranked communication as their second greatest core competency, just below their ability to sustain professional ethics. Perhaps even more surprisingly, internal auditors gave themselves high marks for their powers of persuasion and collaboration, ranking it third, above business acumen and technology know-how.
One former auditor I talked to was hardly surprised by the results of the survey: “Of course they have great communication skills; the job requires it,” he said. “They spend a lot of time trying to convince operational managers to see things their way. They are selling all the time.”
Work in Progress
Further down on the list of self-identified core competencies was critical thinking, which internal auditors ranked fifth out of 10 core competencies. Internal auditors also said they needed the most improvement in this area. They know that to continue to gain influence in the organization they must get better at thinking strategically. According to the IIA, other skills that internal auditors need to develop more fully include managing resources, fostering staff development, and developing a workforce plan. The association also says internal auditors could be better at advocating for themselves and touting their own value.
Lastly, internal auditors gave themselves poor marks for their knowledge of the Professional Practice of Internal Auditing Standards in general, and maintaining a quality assurance and improvement program in particular. As the IIA points out, that may be because they are following their own department guides that are heavily based on IPPF concepts. As these department guides incorporate tools and techniques for flexibility and resourcefulness in light of ever-changing conditions, internal auditors will apply those critical thinking skills to anticipate and solve business problems.
So the next time an internal auditor is looking at your shoes, it may just be because he or she is about to try to convince you that your footwear will be a poor choice for tomorrow’s inclement weather.