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How to be a successful Head of Internal Audit: Our partners share their thoughts

  • Publish Date: Posted over 3 years ago
  • Author:by Andrew Varty

​The role of Head of Internal Audit occupies a critical position in any organisation, helping it to achieve its objectives by evaluating the effectiveness of risk management and internal control arrangements and playing a key part in promoting good corporate governance.

They achieve this by offering evidence-based opinions on all aspects of the above areas and that of internal control.

On a day-to-day basis, a Head of Internal Audit is responsible for the execution of audit activities including compliance requirement identification, testing, evidence evaluation and reporting.

In addition, they are expected to objectively review an organisation’s business processes, protect against fraud and theft of assets and evaluate the efficiency of those risk management procedures which are currently in place.

Their role is particularly vital as we strive to pursue a post-Covid way of doing business, with Heads of Internal Audit playing an important part in problem-solving and making recommendations on how to improve internal controls and governance processes and ensure there is compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

It is these measures which can help businesses to remain stable during these turbulent times, paving the way for future success.

Here, we asked a selection of senior Audit leaders to share the core traits they believe are needed to carry out this important role to the highest possible standard.

Exercise pragmatism

A Head of Internal Audit needs to be able to recognise what is within their capabilities and tailor their approach to auditing accordingly, identifying any issues and resolving them with the means they have at their disposal. This should be in line with what is achievable for the organisation, following best practice and the correct technical processes as much as possible.

Have good insights

These professionals need to generate unique or different perspectives for their business. Recycling well understood or documented issues and problems doesn’t add value. To drive delivery at pace and to a high standard, a Head of Internal Audit’s insights must be clear on what they expect the business to look like, so that they are able to validate them.

Build strong relationships

People who hold this position are responsible for building and maintaining strong relationships across all levels of an organisation, including with board and executive members. At the same time, they must not be afraid to offer robust challenges and honest opinions, despite the potential consequences of doing so. Due to the nature of the role, it also requires a high level of emotional intelligence.  

Heads of Internal Audit must foster strong, collaborative partnerships with other assurance functions (1LoD & 2LoD) and continually seek to develop a true combined assurance approach across the organisation. To that end, they should coordinate risk management across all functions, which is underpinned by the independent annual opinion provided by the Internal Audit function on governance risk management and control. 

Understand business strategy

A good understanding of business strategy, corporate objectives and risk appetite is essential for this role. Strong alignment between the business and the Internal Audit team ensures that the audit plan provides assurance over the key risks to delivering the strategy and can result in more impactful recommendations and a clearer demonstration of the value which they provide.  

Be aware of industry developments

Fostering a broad understanding of the regulatory environment within which the business is operating and keeping abreast of sector developments is a key part of a Head of Internal Audit’s day-to-day responsibilities. It is they who will be ultimately accountable for ensuring that the audit plan is capable of providing coverage of emerging sector and regulatory risks as they arise. 

Know the value of teamwork

As an enthusiastic team player, a Head of Internal Audit should empower the Internal Audit team to perform to a high standard and champion those who work around them when called upon to do so. While seeking to maintain strong relationships with the business, it is vital that the Internal Audit department feels able to raise any observations which are made in good faith. 

Have a strong sense of ethics

A truly exemplary Head of Internal Audit must model the standard for ethical behaviour and to do this, they need to be both honest and courageous.

However, being honest is not always easy. Sometimes a situation may require the Head of Internal Audit to step forward with an uncomfortable truth which needs to be shared. It can be easy to know the right thing to do but it often takes great courage to actually do it.

We would like to thank our contributors for their insights into what makes a truly great Head of Internal Audit:

David Mortlock, Group Head of Internal Audit at Arrow Global Group Plc

Jenny Carter, Professional Interim Head of Audit & Risk

Drew Stafford, Financial Services Auditor at N Brown Group

If you would like to discuss your Internal Audit recruitment requirements in more detail, please contact Andrew Varty: