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The Top Five Leadership Qualities of a Chief Audit Executive

24/02/2016


“Good leaders are made, not born. If you have the desire and willpower, you can become an effective leader.” – Arthur Jago

Indeed, the success of the internal audit profession depends largely on the direction Chief Audit Executives (CAE) provide within their organizations every day. But is leadership something that can be taught? Truly great leaders are developed through a never-ending process of self-study, education, training and experience.

Below are five key leadership qualities that are particularly essential for any CAE.

Collaboration and Support

Leaders are only as successful as the team that follows them. For a CAE, this means understanding the audit committee’s mandate and supporting them in fulfilling it. There are many tasks designed to assist the audit committee that are a required part of your role as CAE, but consider other ways you can support them. For example, establishing ‘in-camera’ (private) sessions with them or developing an orientation package for new committee members. Ultimately your goal as CAE is to serve the Board of Directors for your organization; supporting the audit committee should help you in accomplishing this goal.

It’s also important for the CAE to engage and develop staff. Inspire, motivate, and engage; an effective leader knows how to motivate the team towards a common goal. Engage individuals by providing opportunities and support them towards achieving them.

Professional Competence

Before you can become a leader, you must have the professional competence to deal intelligently with your role, which includes all the right technical knowledge. Otherwise you will not have the respect of the Audit Committee, senior management and your direct reports. Professional competence requires the technical knowledge as well as the ability to practice it.

Another driver for professional competence is preparation and practice. Leadership is a learning process and one can never stop. This means preparing for every project and meeting, as well as anytime you engage with a different team member or business unit. It also requires practice. It is rare for individuals to succeed on every first attempt, and many of our responsibilities as leaders get better as we continue to practice those skills that will allow us to succeed. 

Integrity and Courage

People want to be guided by those they respect and who have a clear sense of direction. To gain respect, they must be ethical. Those reporting to you will observe what you do to assess if you are an honourable and trusted leader or a self-serving person who misuses authority to look good and get promoted. You’ll find that without fail, the majority of people will only follow those that they trust.

CAEs and other audit leaders have a clear obligation to remain objective. This is why CAEs are so highly respected, because they are perceived to be an independent arm that is going to monitor on behalf of the organization and ensure staff are acting with integrity, putting the interests of the institution before their own. That’s why it’s absolutely critical to have a backbone and do the right thing, even in the most difficult of times. Not only do you need to ensure your audit findings are factual, you need to communicate your findings clearly and with confidence, even if the price is potentially losing your job.

Likeability

As a softer social trait, this might be a surprising inclusion on this list, but being likable offers multiple benefits for the CAE. First, it means you’ll be able to attract and retain talent. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, likeability is essential for client relationship management.

An audit is rarely a convenient thing and the CAE may have to prescribe some tough medicine for internal control gaps that are found. The likeability of the CAE can lead to better reception from the audit client – but not simply because the client ‘likes you’.  When a CAE consciously works on their likeability, they become a better listener; they become more open and receptive to different viewpoints; they become a stronger leader. And a stronger CAE ultimately has a greater positive influence over their audit clients. 

Executive Presence and Confidence

If you’ve ever met someone labelled as a ‘natural born leader’ (or been called one yourself), you’ll know a great deal of that person’s reputation is based on their confidence and credibility. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the CAE to take the time to get to know the different business units and understand how they contribute to the operations. Seek out internal stakeholders and show an interest in what they do. Be proactive and engage management whenever possible. Understand your audit clients and the environment in which they operate. When attending meetings, reinforce the importance of working together to achieve a common goal.

Leadership is the result of a lifelong commitment to self-improvement, collaboration and learning. Becoming a great leader doesn’t happen overnight, but working on the areas outlined here will certainly help your leadership capabilities as a CAE.

To learn more, contact Geoff Rodrigues, CPA, CA, CIA, CRMA, ORMP, National Internal Audit Leader, at 416.515.3800 or [email protected], or your local MNP Enterprise Risk Services advisor.