I can hear the shouts from internal auditors, regulators and internal audit academics now. ‘Of course internal audit is not, it’s the antithesis of management with no executive responsibility.’ Well, yes but hear me out. Internal audit of course has (or should have) no executive responsibility and of course managers have, or should have, executive responsibility. But this is but one aspect of the role. Think about others.
Take, for example, the nature of the task. Senior managers need to ensure that they achieve organisational objectives which are set by governance structures. They do this by looking at the risks to those objectives and then putting resourced action plans in place to mitigate those risks. The skills managers use to do this are no more than the typical internal auditor uses to review and assess them. Think then also of the position of the internal auditor. In a cross cutting role requiring strategic, tactical and operational oversight. Senior managers are in this position, crossing departmental boundaries and needed to keep strategic, tactical and operational controls in place. Think also of the training senior managers have. Sometimes from a functional, professional, specialist backgrounds, but more often than not, from a generalist ‘management’ background. They approach each task with some context dependent knowledge (experience) and some context independent knowledge (theories and general frameworks). They are no more trained or knowledgeable about a majority of the elements of their portfolio than the average internal auditor. No one could expect senior managers to omniscient and all-skilled. So their approach to reviewing control and management issues is little different from an internal auditor’s.
So I contend the skill set of senior management and a senior internal auditor is very similar. Indeed in my experience internal auditors often have, through their training, a more systematised approach to assessing and solving management problems. Thankfully I am lucky to work with a senior manager who ‘gets’ what internal audit is, its discipline, and has a similar mindset to approaching the issues and problems they face.
Perhaps after all the false divide between internal auditors and management might be overcome.