Internal auditors take pride in their technical expertise. Their organizations count on them to know exactly how to help the business meet compliance demands and manage risks. However, many internal auditors today find that to do their jobs effectively, they need to bring even more to the table: soft skills.

A top reason for the growing importance of soft skills in the profession is changing expectations about the role of internal auditors. Senior management is increasingly looking to their internal audit staff to serve as strategic advisors to the business. Protiviti, a Robert Half subsidiary, noted in the 2015 edition of its Internal Auditing Around the World publication that “internal auditors’ broad and deep perspective of operations, risks and potential opportunities can help inform business decision-making.”

Meeting this expectation requires internal auditors to apply soft skills such as strategic thinking. In fact, in a new Robert Half Management Resources survey, 30 percent of finance leaders interviewed said strategic-thinking abilities are mandatory for all accounting and finance professionals. Employers want their teams to use their expertise to develop and execute strategies that can help the business to grow, increase profits and maintain skills.

Soft skills help turn recommendations into actions

Soft skills are important for internal auditors to possess because they are essential to their ability to affect positive change in the organization.

As the latest Global Internal Audit Common Body of Knowledge (CBOK) study, administered through The IIA Research Foundation (IIARF), explains: “Personal skills (communication, persuasion and collaboration, and critical thinking) are important for ensuring that the information, observations, and recommendations identified based on technical expertise have the appropriate impact on the enterprise.”

Communication improves collaboration

Written and verbal communication skills — and the ability to listen — are important for successfully interacting with various departments throughout the organization as well as with outside resources like external auditors.

Many internal auditors, and especially leaders of the function, will also find that mastering good communication is also essential for effective collaboration within their own team and for encouraging the best performance from millennial staff members.

Developing soft skills is a process

Like technical abilities, soft skills take time to learn. Critical and strategic thinking skills, for example, are earned and refined mostly through experience.

As the CBOK report notes, “Critical thinking is the most sought-after skill by internal audit hiring managers, but generally it is learned on the job through dedicated feedback and coaching from internal audit leaders.” And few organizations even provide professional development for strategic-thinking skills, according to our research. Lack of budget is often a key reason, as is the challenge in developing a robust program to teach these skills.

Internal auditors who want to grow their nontechnical skills, particularly critical and strategic thinking abilities, may need to take the initiative to find ways to achieve their goal — and help advance their career. Letting your manager know that you seek development opportunities is a good starting place. If budget is an issue, suggest mentoring or job rotation as potential options for development. These arrangements demand the application of soft skills.

Depending on where you are in your internal auditing career and the technical expertise you possess, working as a consultant is another strategy to consider. Consulting is a dynamic career that requires you to work with a wide range of people, adapt to different work environments, and constantly meet new challenges. All of the above can help you to accelerate development of your soft skills.

Looking for internal audit positions? Explore our site to find employment opportunities in your area.

Search Jobs

Additional resources for internal auditors

Blog: A Look Ahead: Internal Audit Hiring and Salary Trends: Whether you’re considering a career change or looking to advance along your current path, the growing field of internal audit provides ample opportunities for talented professionals. The latest Salary Guide from Robert Half offers a look into the future for specialists in this area. Learn more in this post.

White paper: Succeeding as a 21st Century Internal Auditor: 7 Attributes of Highly Effective Internal Auditors: Find out what nontechnical attributes today’s internal auditors should possess in this white paper co-authored by Richard Chambers, president and CEO of The Institute of Internal Auditors, and Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half.

Report: 2016 Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey: Arriving at Internal Audit's Tipping Point Amid Business Transformation: Development of personal skills has become an area of focus for many internal auditors, according to Protiviti’s latest Internal Audit Capabilities and Needs Survey. Read the details in this survey report.