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Auditors, Embrace Your Non-Expert Status!

Have you ever had a client protest that you could not possibly audit their area because you are not an “expert” at “what we do”?  This is a very difficult situation to encounter.  Oftentimes, we attempt to “prove” to the client that we are qualified to perform the audit.  We begin listing our skills and experience to demonstrate our proficiency.  The truth is, we are not experts at what our clients do and that’s okay.

Earlier this year, I completed the Six Sigma Greenbelt curriculum.  During the training portion, we extensively discussed the Six Sigma methodology.  The facilitator also discussed various assignments in multiple industries, some of which he had no knowledge of prior to his engagements.  He also commented that he did not need to be the expert in the industry, because he was the expert in the Six Sigma methodology.  When applied appropriately, the methodology is instrumental in bringing efficiencies to the work environment.

I believe the same is true with internal auditing.  We are experts at executing the audit methodology.  This methodology requires that we objectively evaluate risks to determine if management’s risk mitigation techniques reduce the risk of loss to an acceptable level.  This means that auditors must effectively utilize soft and technical skills to collaborate with clients, gather relevant information, evaluate information and report to stakeholders.  This is where our expertise resides.  That is not to say the we should not be familiar with our client’s industry, however, the true value of an auditor is the ability to objectively asses the environment.  The longer we are in an industry, the more versed we are.  That goes without saying.  However, in some instances, a seasoned industry veteran may miss the critical risk directly in front of him/her due to bias.

Overall, auditors must strike the right balance between industry knowledge and auditing proficiency.  So the next time a client questions your “expertise”, do not take it to heart.  Brush up on both industries…their core business as well as internal auditing.  You may not be the quintessential expert in what they do, but you should be the expert in risk identification, evaluation and reporting.

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Robert Berry (88)

Robert (That Audit Guy) Berry is a risk, compliance and auditing advocate, educator and innovator. He helps good professionals become better by creating articles, web services and training that allow them to expand their knowledge network.

5 thoughts on “Auditors, Embrace Your Non-Expert Status!

  1. Sometimes I’m the subject matter expert on audits (usually co-sourced); other times I’m no expert on the subject of the audit. Either way, my pitch is “Many stakeholders – most of whom know very little about this – could look at this situation; some of them may be looking for a problem to further their own agenda. How do we show THEM?” It reminds the auditee why we’re doing the audit in the first place. We really ARE “here to help you!”

  2. Good point Doug. However, I stopped saying we are “here to help you” years ago and simply started showing it. Very few believe it (no matter how true it really is). I actually thought about this and came to the conclusion that we really perform audits to determine if the controls adequately mitigate risks. So if you are a process owner who is maliciously manipulating the system, then we really are not helping you but are helping the organization and stakeholders. I think it is all a matter of perspective. Anyway, good comment. I completely agree.

  3. In my opinion, being an expert in client field may affect your work as auditor.

    the results of the assessment ( which should be objective) could be bias according to what the auditor experiance.

  4. Good point Fatima. “Confirmation Bias” can definitely hinder your objectivity. I believe we are experts in risks, controls and processes. We are very familiar with industries within which we work and may have some expertise in specific areas, but it is impossible to be an expert at everything.

    Thanks for the good comment.

  5. […] their process.  Well newsflash, you are not an expert at every process in your organization (see auditors embrace your non expert status).  As an auditor, you may have a strong familiarity with an industry, but your true strength is […]

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