The Softer Side of Internal Audit

Brian Christensen is Executive Vice President – Global Internal Audit for Protiviti, a subsidiary of Robert Half. Protiviti is a global consulting firm that helps companies solve problems in finance, technology, operations, governance, risk and internal audit. The following reviews key findings from Protiviti’s 2014 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey, an annual study that assesses competency levels and areas of improvement for CAEs and internal audit professionals. The survey report and other resources can be found at

Public speaking. Negotiation. Persuasion. These may not be the first three characteristics that come to mind when you think of an internal auditor – but they should be.

Such “soft skills” long have been valued, even in technical fields, and internal audit is no exception.

After all, if internal audit executives can’t effectively share their findings with the organizations' leadership and rank and file and collaborate with them productively, how are they possibly going to fulfill their roles as catalysts for change?

Protiviti’s 2014 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey identifies the most important soft skills that internal audit executives need to improve to excel in today’s marketplace. Our annual survey’s findings and emphasis on communication underscore the rising importance of collaboration throughout the enterprise and even beyond the organization.

But identifying vital soft skills and establishing them as cornerstones for internal audit’s success are entirely different matters. Our report on this year’s survey includes action items designed to help internal audit executives foster environments in which they can use their personal skills most effectively. Our recommended action items include the following:

  • Determine when business colleagues would most benefit from internal audit expertise and insights as they make important decisions –  and then establish ways to provide such information as early as possible in the decision-making process.
  • Consider the need for a branding/communications effort designed to inform all areas of the business of internal audit’s role and the value of collaborating with internal audit on an ongoing basis.
  • Develop rotational programs with the goal of exposing internal auditors to as many different parts of the business as possible.
  • Establish training opportunities that help groom internal auditors for leadership roles and strengthen internal audit’s collaboration with other departments. 

Though it is stereotypical to presume that internal auditors need only numbers and relevant information to support their position, nothing could be further from the truth.

The power of strong presentation and interpersonal skills was demonstrated in a recent study by University of Illinois and University of Massachusetts professors.1  In this study, one group of internal auditors presented its case in a logical, organized fashion that helped managers better understand the implications of the information. By comparison, another group presented the identical information, but in a random order that undermined a cohesive argument. What was the most notable revelation of the experiment? It didn’t matter whether the actual accounting information was supportive of the auditors’ case. What mattered was that the managers agreed more often with those who made the better presentation.

Such findings substantiate why respondents to our survey this year ranked “presenting” (public speaking) as the No. 1 personal skill that needs to be improved. Among the other skills that were cited, in order of importance: negotiation, persuasion, dealing with confrontation and time management.

Our survey’s results amplify a point made by a top internal audit executive in a 2013 report from The Institute of Internal Auditors and Robert Half about internal auditor attributes. It stated “soft skills are the new hard skills.”

These soft skills enhance the internal auditor’s ability to work outside of a vacuum and cultivate information from all corners of an organization. Ultimately, it’s the ability to engage with all people at all levels that will help those in the internal audit profession identify critical business risks.

In addition to commentary in our report, we offer key questions for internal audit executives to consider when addressing these issues. Check out our related blogs at The Protiviti View, which features commentary, insights and points of view on key challenges and risks facing companies today. 

1 Fanning, Kirsten and M. David  Piercey, Internal Auditors’ Use of Interpersonal Likability, Arguments, and Accounting Information in a Corporate Governance Setting (March 31, 2014), available at SSRN: or