Every audit team has a boss who possesses the skill sets needed to manage “resources” and create and execute audit plans. However, a crucial component of the most effective audit teams is an audit leader who not only has the technical knowledge, but also the ability to inspire and empower their teams to achieve greatness.
Modern audit teams are often staffed with high-performing, results-driven individuals eager to do good work, but they are more likely to succeed under the right leadership conditions. Audit culture can be very intense and often burns out staff who work long hours to meet what can be perceived as arbitrary deadlines. Internal auditors may also lack understanding of their place in the larger department or why their work is essential to the organization as a whole. Instead of managing teams based on deadlines and test completion rates, audit leaders should cultivate an empowering management style that guides staff to be results-driven and meet goals while also building them into well-rounded professionals and industry leaders. Learn best practice solutions to five common audit leadership challenges below.
Five Audit Leadership Challenges & Best Practices
Leadership skills are critical to the modern auditor skill set; however, the vast majority of our training is dedicated to technical skills proficiency. Emotional intelligence, including leadership, is equally valuable to the auditor skill set. Internal audit leaders face many challenges that put their leadership skills to the test on a daily basis. With practice, these challenges can be met with responses that empower the team and drive overall success.
Challenge One: Managing tight audit deadlines.
Leadership Best Practice: Deadlines are part of everyday work, and at times the team will struggle to meet the timeline. As a leader, practice active listening and trust the team’s expertise. When your team speaks up about a deadline, listen intently. Otherwise, they will have to overwork, which leads to burnout. Driven teams need to be heard to maintain motivation.
Challenge Two: Balancing hands-on management with trusting your team.
Leadership Best Practice: Set clear expectations and empower your team to work independently. A well-trained team owns their work and deserves trust from their leader in return. As your team gains more experience and proves themselves through good performance, micromanagement will become an inefficient leadership approach, causing a stressful work environment. When a level of trust is established, your team will gain the confidence to perform work without constant guidance, allowing the audit leader to focus their time on other value-add responsibilities.
Challenge Three: Providing timely and honest feedback.
Leadership Best Practice: To set the team up for success, foster an environment of open and honest communication. Once feedback has been provided, give your team sufficient time to process the feedback and improve. Also, encourage constructive upward feedback not only to enhance your ability to lead your team, but also to boost team morale by allowing your team to feel heard.
Challenge Four: Giving others room to shine.
Leadership Best Practice: Most audit leaders earned their position by first being a great auditor. They may slip into a habit of taking over conversations when issues arise, not maliciously, but simply from old routines. Less experienced internal auditors need the room to present work performed, the opportunity to try new things, and the chance to learn through experience.
Challenge Five: Creating a culture of recognition.
Leadership Best Practice: Even an empowered team can suffer if their wins are not celebrated. Leaders sometimes become overly focused on task completion and quickly move on to the next project. Leaders who take the time to discuss what went well on an audit and provide recognition for a job well done set the team up for future success.
Final Thoughts on Empowering Future Audit Leaders
Leading from a position of empowerment not only allows your team to realize their potential and achieve results, but also grooms your team to be the leaders of tomorrow. Throughout my tenure as an auditor, I had the opportunity to work with exceptional audit leaders who excelled in the above leadership best practices. This resulted in the most value-add audits of my career, enlightening and rewarding learning experiences, as well as the ability to pay it forward when given the opportunity to lead teams of my own. Embracing the best practices described above will set you and your results-driven audit team on a career path to long-term, sustainable success.
Francine Ndjatou, CPA is a Manager of Solutions Advisory Services at AuditBoard. An experienced auditor and EY alumna, Francine has spent her career providing consulting and audit services with a focus on SOX compliance, risk-based financial audits, and technical accounting matters. Connect with Francine on LinkedIn.