The President of the IIA shares what he sees as the top seven attributes of an effective internal auditor, and in general I agree, with a few distinctions.
The most important attribute is referred to as business acumen, but the description that accompanies it has more to do with having an in-depth knowledge of the business the auditor works for. Splitting hairs I guess, but acumen is the ability to make good decisions and exercise sound judgment. A strong understanding of what is driving the success of the business is important to cultivate, as is staying on top of developments within the industry in which it operates. I think both are important, but one is easier to develop than the other.
Communication skills come next, and I would broaden that to be people skills in general. The ability to read people and adapt to any given situation and personality is very helpful, so both the outward skills like communicating clearly and succinctly and the inward skills like listening actively and processing information quickly will come in handy when dealing with people within the organization.
Integrity comes in at 3rd, and is critical to establishing and maintaining your reputation as a professional. Being consistently honest and forthright in your interactions with your “customers” will allow you to build strong working relationships across the business.
Experience is next, and it’s not a subject I feel especially qualified to discuss, since I’m only in my third year as an internal auditor, sixth as an auditor. What I will say is that each day I strive to learn and get better at my job, and working with staff that have, among them, decades more experience than I provides a constant reminder of the value of that experience.
Number five on the list is a solid grasp of business risks, which to me means the exact same thing as the first item. Let’s just put them both together at the top and shorten the list to six, shall we? After that is talent development skills, which is important to have once you reach a certain level and have people reporting up to you. I could make the case that this is essentially a subset of people skills.
Last (but not least in my opinion) is courage and that’s important for auditors whether they’re external or internal. Part of the job is being the bearer of bad news and you’ve got have the stones to deliver it straight!