by Denise Robitaille
It occurred to me as I was preparing to pen this issue’s column that it had been a while since I’d dealt with one of the essential requirements for a successful audit program: fundamental auditor traits. I decided to revisit ISO 19011: Guidelines for Auditing Management Systems to refresh my memory on what the ISO guidance document has to say on the subject.
ISO 19011 enumerates the following as being emblematic behavior for a competent and qualified auditor: ethical, open-minded, diplomatic, observant, perceptive, versatile, tenacious, decisive, self-reliant, acting with fortitude, open to improvement, culturally sensitive, and collaborative.
It’s worth noting that these traits were arrived at using an international consensus process. Wherever you go, auditors are expected to conducted themselves with the same level of professionalism typified by the aforementioned list. We all play by the same rules.
It’s also valuable to observe that nothing is taken for granted—nothing is presumed to be self-evident. These traits, and their uniform espousal, are so essential to the integrity of the audit process, that the standards developers decided to articulate them precisely and clearly. There is no equivocating. These are the characteristics that are required of all auditors.
I’d like to take a closer look at these traits and reiterate what they mean. I’ll discuss some of them in this issue. Due to space limitations I’ll address the rest in the next issue.
Ethical. Auditors do not embellish findings beyond what objective evidence indicates. They don’t make a situation sound more dire than it is in an effort to embarrass the auditee into action. Nor do they minimize findings out of fear of alienating a co-worker or to make a colleague feel better. Their reports are truthful, objective, unbiased, and devoid of condescension. Also, they exercise discretion, refraining from idle gossip and disclosure of confidential information.
Open-minded. Auditors may occasionally observe a nontraditional method of applying a requirement. Just because a process is unconventional doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Auditors aren’t required to like how a requirement is applied; they’re only required to assess if the application fulfills the requirement and is effective in achieving the objective. Disliking a process doesn’t give an auditor the right to cite a finding.
Diplomatic. Courtesy buys a lot of goodwill in an audit situation. It can also make the difference between a productive audit interview and an excruciating one-way conversation punctuated by the occasional “yes” or “no” grunt. Paying close to attention to the language used to phrase a question can determine if the response will be informative or confrontational. Auditors’ demeanor is always respectful.
Observant. Auditing is about more than asking questions. Auditors should be able to assess the work environment, adherence to clothing and safety protocols, the flow of activities, placement of product, and requisite material identification practices—all while remaining attentive to the person with whom they are speaking. In some instances, the manner in which a process is conducted is as important as the outcome.
Perceptive. This trait is akin to the preceding one, in that perception follows observation. What am I looking at and what does it mean? An auditor should be able to discern the significance of what is being observed. There may be risks associated with the process that could invalidate test results, lead to hidden defects, or end in the customer getting unusable product. Auditors need to understand a process so they can make informed decisions relating to conformance and effectiveness.
Versatile. Audits happen in real time. Things happen. Someone gets sick; the power goes out; a customer calls. An auditor should use such happenstance as an opportunity to see how well things are controlled when the process is not running textbook perfect. This could result in a revision to the audit plan or to re-arrangement of assignments within the audit team. In these situations, auditors need to be flexible.
Tenacious. To be successful at tenacity, auditors also need to exhibit one of the earlier traits: diplomacy. It’s important to get the information. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries at asking the right question to get the needed response. Or there’s a need to follow an audit trail that covers adjacent processes. Auditors can’t give up. But, they also don’t want to sound badgering—or worse, like an inquisitor. So auditors have to meld and balance their tenacity and diplomacy to get the job done.
These auditors traits are far more than just niceties. Consistent adherence to these traits ensures that the audit results will be reliable, robust, and a benefit to the organization. It also ensures the perpetuation of the audit process as a positive experience for all concerned.
About the author
Denise E. Robitaille is an active member of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She is also principal of Robitaille Associates, committed to making your quality system meaningful. She’s a Exemplar Global-certified lead assessor, ASQ-certified quality auditor, and ASQ Fellow. She’s the author of numerous articles and many books, including The Corrective Action Handbook and The Preventive Action Handbook, and a co-author of The Insider’s Guide to ISO 9001:2008, all published by Paton Professional.