The work of internal auditors and compliance professionals is filled with frameworks, regulations, and policies and procedures documents that define the path for operational effectiveness. Follow those guidelines, manage risk effectively and the likelihood of success increases. But what about our own success? 

These seven key actions will increase the likelihood of your own success as an internal audit and compliance professional.

1. Be confident in your abilities.

There is greatness within each one of us and we should not let others tell us otherwise. Some things may come easily to us, while other skills and competencies may take longer to learn and master. But that only means we need to invest more effort in them. Don’t let others dictate your own self-image. Identify and use your strengths, while working to strengthen those areas where you have weaknesses. Making mistakes is a part of life, just remember to get back up and learn from them so you don’t repeat the same mistakes. Find courses, seminars, webinars and attend conferences where you can acquire the skills you need while learning about important topics impacting your industry and organisation. We will spend a lifetime learning and improving, so being confident and having a positive attitude will take you far.

2. Aim high.

Some individuals accomplish great things by setting high and sometimes seemingly impossible goals. How do they do that? They think big and work diligently towards them. It may take some time, but you too can achieve your goals if you remain disciplined, focused and committed to doing a little every day that will keep you moving forward towards your objectives. If you’re pursuing a degree, a certification, or moving into a new job, remember that others have done similar things like this before. You can too, so aim high and remember that the limits are in your own mind.  

3. Keep good company.

The proverb “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are” comes to mind. Surround yourself with optimistic, confident, forward-thinking and open-minded individuals who will support and encourage you. No one needs negativity in their lives. By being in the company of those who believe in lifelong learning, whose conversations are uplifting and live a healthy and balanced lifestyle, you will also join in their edifying conversations and you will soon copy their constructive actions. Peer pressure doesn’t have to be negative. Let positive peer pressure motivate you.

4. Work diligently.

Discipline is essential for success in our profession. Stay focused and determined when you set your goals. These include large life-changing initiatives during your professional, academic and personal lives, but also the smaller day-to-day activities required to get things done around the office and home. Get organised and apply time-management techniques to continuously work on your goals. It may require breaking down activities into 15 or 20-minute increments so you can wedge necessary actions. Act with consistency, do everything with care and in a way that reflects the high standards that you want to be known for.

5. If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, not the goal.

Everyone is looking for an open door to walk through. But what if the door is closed and you can’t open it? Look for a back door. What if the back door is also closed?  Look for an open window. We may need to zig. We may need to zag. But that is just course correcting. Keep your sight on the goal and be persistent. Is your goal to become a Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)? How about a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) or obtaining the Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA)? If you audit projects and review processes often, maybe the Project Management Professional (PMP), the Professional in Business Analysis (PBA) or a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) is for you. But these are a small sample of the many certifications, and academic degrees you can obtain that will likely help you advance in your career. Use, adapt and revisit your plan to make sure it still works, and if it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board. There is probably a way; you just need to find it.

6. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

Steve Jobs was onto something when he said this, because naysayers may want to keep you down by discouraging your dreams and questioning your plans. Take time to reflect, think for yourself, and listen to your intuition. Pay attention to your inner voice, make sure to listen when your gut is speaking and take notice. As we advance in our careers, we must learn to balance the rational mind, which is fact-based and rational, with our heart, which is more instinctive and passionate. This is true when you’re preparing work papers, performing analytical work and when looking at ways to differentiate yourself from others in today’s competitive work environment.

7. Pursue a balance between technical and soft skills.

Technical skills are essential for what we do every day at work. We need to know about accounting, finance, process improvement, information technology and cybersecurity, risk management and fraud schemes. But soft skills are also essential because they will help you make better and quicker decisions, solve problems more easily and organise the many little snippets of life that make our whole existence. We are also focusing more on understanding organisational culture, ethics and the role of management ineffective internal control. Too many of our customers don’t understand what we do, how we do it, and why it matters to them. Inefficiency, errors, and fraud limit the success of our organisations at the individual level, and our economies when aggregated. What we do matters tremendously, and we need to use our soft-skills to communicate the importance of what we do with every audit and review we perform, every meeting we hold, every presentation we make, and every report we write.

According to the Standards we must possess the knowledge, skills, and other competencies needed to perform our individual responsibilities, and our departments must collectively possess or obtain the knowledge, skills, and other competencies needed to perform the established responsibilities (Standard 1210). When each of us sets high goals and works diligently towards their achievement, we will collectively elevate the quality of our internal audit and compliance units.  The result will not only include a satisfying list of achievements and higher-quality results now and in the future, but we will enjoy the satisfaction that success brings when it is the result of hard work.