Institute of Internal Auditors headquarters in Florida
Institute of Internal Auditors headquarters in Florida Courtesy of the IIA

Richard Chambers, president and CEO of the Institute of Internal Auditors, has published a new book detailing how members of his profession can advance their careers.

Trusted Advisors: Key Attributes of Outstanding Auditors,” is a follow-up to his 2014 memoir, “Lessons Learned on the Audit Trail.” The closing chapter of that book dealt with the concept of how a trusted advisor such as an internal auditor earns a “seat at the table” when business decisions are being made. Chambers decided to devote his next book to the topic of how internal auditors can get that seat.

Trusted Advisors book by Richard Chambers of the IIA

“The more I contemplated the model that I outlined there, the more I thought it’s a pretty complex topic,” Chambers told Accounting Today. “For a lot of people in our profession—internal auditors, and in other professions as well, certainly in the consulting field in general—there’s a lot of talk about wanting to have a seat at the table, and being perceived as someone trustworthy. I’ve been in this profession for over 40 years, and I’ve worked with a lot of outstanding men and women. As I think about what are the things they’ve shared in common, the very best ones I’ve ever worked with or who have ever worked for me, what are the common traits? What is the code to crack, so to speak, in terms of what makes an outstanding professional, an outstanding internal auditor or in any profession for that matter?”

Chambers began compiling of list of characteristics and came up with 13. He then surveyed 250 chief audit executives to get their perspective. Ultimately, he winnowed down the list of characteristics to nine and devoted a chapter to each attribute in his new book. He has no immediate plans for incorporating those characteristics in the training offered by the IIA, although some of them might eventually be included.

Richard Chambers of the IIA
Richard Chambers

“The real objective here is to create a resource that internal auditors, particularly those who are new and aspiring in the profession, would be able to draw on,” he said.

The book organizes the attributes into three categories: personal, relational and professional attributes. Personal attributes include ethical resilience, results focused, intellectually curious and open mindedness. The relational attributes are dynamic communicators, insightful relationships and inspirational leaders. The professional attributes comprise critical thinkers, technical expertise and remaining the stakeholder’s confidant.

“The point is that you can be good at one or two of these things, but you’ll still fall short in winning the trust of management and others in the organization,” said Chambers. “You’ve really got to have a strong portfolio of attributes. You’ve got to be good across the board if you want management, board members and others to seek you out for advice and also to take any assurance that you give them seriously. The book uses the expression ‘trusted advisors,’ but it’s not just about advice. It’s about the willingness to listen to the internal auditor, whether he or she is giving you recommendations based on audit results or whether they’re coming in and offering you advice based on expertise and years of experience.”

He believes the book will be useful for chief audit executives as well as their staff. Chambers has seen many changes over the years with the internal audit profession. With the advent of the Trump administration this year, he does not think the emphasis on deregulation will prompt internal auditors to change their focus, however.

“The rise of internal auditing hasn’t coincided with a period of high regulation,” he said. “This is a profession that has been on a very steep growth trajectory for at least two generations, going back all way to the ’70s. As I look at the kind of work that internal auditors are doing today, compliance does not comprise a majority of the work by any means—nor does financial. If you look at what internal audit is and does, it focuses on where the risks are. If all of the agenda of the new president and the Congress are to diminish some of the regulatory requirements, that’s fine. Maybe compliance risks aren’t as big of a risk to many companies. It’s like taking your finger out of the glass of water; it still comes back to the same place. There are other risks and they come in and fill in the gap.”

Chambers pointed to a recent study by KPMG of audit committees. Audit committee members were asked about the number one area where they would like to see internal audit focusing on more.

“The number one area was looking at the overall effectiveness of risk management itself,” said Chambers. “It has nothing to do with compliance, but just how well does the overall organization manage risk. If I look today at all the technology risks, cybersecurity, cloud computing, mobile technology, those risks are going to be there whether you’ve got a lot of compliance requirements in place or not. So I’m not too worried personally, or professionally as the CEO of the IIA, that a shift away from a high regulatory environment is going to harm our profession. I think there are ample risks out there to be addressed.”

Chambers hesitates to offer any predictions on exactly what the future of the internal audit profession will be in the years ahead.

“Every time we think we figure out the future of internal audit, something happens to change the course,” he said. “I remember in 2001, when people said the future of internal audit is consulting. Then just a few months later Enron and WorldCom came along, and the future of internal audit changed dramatically. I speak to audiences all the time on the future of internal audit, and I said that the one thing I have learned about the future is it can’t be predicted. We are risk centric so we will end up following the risks, and there are going to be new and emerging risks that no one sees coming.”

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn

Michael Cohn, editor-in-chief of AccountingToday.com, has been covering business and technology for a variety of publications since 1985.