Professional Proficiency: What Does That Really Mean for Internal Auditors?

Richard Chambers, CIA, CGAP, CCSA, CRMA, shares his personal reflections and insights on the internal audit profession. 


As professionals, internal auditors are expected to possess a number of core attributes. An overarching attribute that is not the subject of very much discussion is “professional proficiency.” Most of us understand that professional proficiency is an expectation, but what does it really mean?

IIA Standard 1210: Professional Proficiency requires internal auditors to possess the “knowledge, skills, and other competencies required to perform their individual responsibilities.” I fear that many assume that one automatically demonstrates his or her proficiency by obtaining appropriate professional certifications and qualifications, such as the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) or Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA) offered by The IIA. As important as qualifications are, however, I believe that demonstrating professional proficiency is an ongoing process. Proficiency must be demonstrated in every professional task we undertake.

According to Practice Advisory 1210-1 (PDF), proficiency means:

  • The ability to apply knowledge appropriately without technical research or assistance.
  • Understanding of accounting principles and techniques (if we are conducting financial-related audits).
  • Ability to recognize the indicators of fraud.
  • Knowledge of key IT risks, controls, and technology-based audit techniques.
  • Familiarity with management principles and good business practices and the ability to apply that knowledge to recognize significant deviations and recommend reasonable solutions.
  • Human relations skills to maintain satisfactory relationships with clients.
  • Oral and written communication skills to clearly and effectively convey engagement objectives, evaluations, conclusions, and recommendations.

I don’t believe that every internal auditor has to be an expert on everything, any more than a goalkeeper should be expected to be able to play every position on a football/soccer team. It is incumbent upon each of us, however, to learn as much as we can so that collectively we can field a winning internal audit team for our organizations.

But while Practice Advisory 1210-1 makes allowance for chief audit executives to recruit outside experts to fill knowledge gaps in the internal audit team in the short-term, I would submit that it is the job of every member of the internal audit team to work constantly to fill those gaps through continuing education, diversity of experience, and certification.

As I have often written here, the internal audit profession is constantly evolving, adapting to a changing risk landscape to identify emergent risks and align with the changing goals and objectives of the board and senior management. As a practical matter, that means we can never rest on our laurels. We should always be updating our skill set. As change agents, we must never allow ourselves to become complacent or assume that colleagues will cover for us in areas where we might not be experts.

When I was first appointed as Inspector General of The Tennessee Valley Authority, I was in awe of the fact that I would be leading the audit operations of the nation’s largest wholesale producer of electricity. It would have been easy for me simply to defer to the expertise of my highly qualified audit team. However, I felt that I needed to have some proficiency in electric power generation and distribution to enhance my credibility in leading the organization. So I enrolled in one of the basic electric utility courses that the company offered to entry-level employees. It did not make me an expert, by any means, but it certainly enhanced my proficiency.

Unless we are willing to step up as individuals and even internal audit leaders, our internal audit activities won’t be proficient, and we will not be able to demonstrate the value that our stakeholders have a right to expect.

Are you proficient? How do you keep your skills current? Let’s have a dialogue. I’d love to read your thoughts. 

Posted on Oct 10, 2013 by Richard Chambers

Share This Article:    

  1. Richard, thank you for your article!

    I suppose that at the “conceptual level” of professionalism for internal auditors - the same thing that the professionalism of any other profession. So it is important to “specifics” in this case? And is there at all, the “specifics”?

    Is HR Director shall not have good communication skills? Did not have to constantly raise their professional level? Did not need to know how to work with the staff? Etc.

    What is the difference, where is it?

    I think “professionalism” has no respect of persons, and makes no distinction between the professions. It's unites us more that than emphasizes.

    What then is the result?

    I think that professionalism - it's not just specific characteristics; it is a goal that constantly goes beyond the horizon. And the way to it - is the path of self-realization. But the roads may be different, and we have chosen the way of internal audit. It is our path, the path of the internal auditor.

    P.S. (about the inner meaning of some words, such as "professionalism")

    Rehabilitation Officer: your file says you've served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you've been “rehabilitated”?

    Red: “Rehabilitated”?... Well, now, let me see. You know, I don't have any idea what that means.

    Rehabilitation Officer: Well, it means that you're ready to rejoin society, to …

    Red: [Interrupting] I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it's just a made-up word. A politician's word, so that young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie and have a job. What do you really wanna know? Am I sorry for what I did?

    (The Shawshank Redemption)


  1.  Thanks sir for your valuable blogs. You have correctly said and you have given a perfect example of your life. I agree with your thoughts. 

  1. Being a professional, as Dennis says, to me is more fundamental than individual professions such as internal auditor, doctor, accountant. It implies the ability to apply a constantly renewed body of knowledge and skills to new as well as familiar situations. Because knowledge brings power and status and reward the profession as a whole needs to govern its practitioners in the interests of the public/society. Such governing consists of setting standards, defining relevant knowledge and skills, testing and qualifying practitioners, ensuring they maintain their knowledge and behave ethically. And for the individuals the mark of a proficient professional is the ability to provide an opinion, based on both explicit and tacit knowledge (i.e. built on experience and reflection) top-down (rather than the sum of many parts) that makes the recipient more certain, more confident - because they could not frame the data in that way themselves.

    So when, following Richard's example, a professional needs to acquire new knowledge s/he adds it to a professional framework where it makes sense. Richard didn't learn power generation like an electrical engineer, but like an auditor - understanding the risks and controls, the accountability, the impact on society. Richard - forgive my taking your name in vain!

  1. Thank you Sir Richards for your thoughts. I really learn a lot from your views as an Internal Auditing student from South Africa at Cape Peninsula University of Technology 

    As internal Auditors, it really is important for us to have knowledge of various fields so that we may know what we are dealing with as Internal Auditors. I think when you have knowledge n the certain field your efficiency as an Auditor will improve and the Internal Auditing team will safe on unnecessary costs of bringing the experts in. 

    Just my thoughts. 

  1.  Dear Sir Rchard Chambers,

    Your  proposition is very clear and useful,to improve the performance of the  internal auditing profession.

Leave a Reply