By Mark Hammar
When certification bodies send an audit team to assess an ISO 9001:2015 quality management system (QMS), the audit team will be managed by a lead auditor. This important auditor holds additional responsibilities above the other auditors on the team, such as assigning audit tasks and acting as final judgement on nonconformances. The role of lead auditor is critical for the certification audit to be effective.
Becoming a lead auditor can be an exciting advancement, but there may also be many questions about the process you will need to navigate and the obstacles that may be in your path. So, if you want to advance your career in auditing, but do not know if this is the right move for you, this article will talk about the process to become a lead auditor and provide more information on the lead auditor training course that will be required.
If you are thinking of becoming a lead auditor, there are certain steps you will need to go through.
- Ensure good prior experience. You will want to gain experience in a job that has responsibilities for understanding processes of the QMS, including the possibility of performing internal audits of processes. This experience will help you, as an auditor, to be able to understand different implementations of processes. It is critical that you understand how processes work if you are going to perform process audits. Process audits assess the entire process, and not just the written documentation of a process.
- Attend ISO 9001 lead auditor training. This includes not only attending the sessions, but also passing the lead auditor exam. This will mean you need to attend the entire training, often four to five days long, because if you miss any of the training you will not be able to write the exam. Passing this course is a mandatory prerequisite to being considered for employment as an auditor by a certification body.
- Find a certification body. Once you meet the above requirements, you can find a certification body that needs certification auditors; however, just finding a certification body will not be enough. Each certification body will have training they need you to complete, such as first observing audits, and then becoming an audit team member before you will be eligible to become a lead auditor. You need to gain experience as a certification auditor before you can lead the team, because this is different from any internal auditing you may have done.
What does ISO 9001 lead auditor training look like?
Most lead auditor trainings are scheduled for five full days, although some training will vary. In general, the first two days of lead auditor training will be focused on going through each clause of the standard, and explaining in detail what is involved in implementing the clause and what to look for to ensure that the clause is adequately and effectively implemented.
The next two and a half days will be focused on how to audit, including audit planning, audit preparation, opening meetings, conducting the audit, following the audit trail, closing meetings, recording a nonconformance, audit reporting, and follow-up. This second portion of the training will often include role-playing exercises to give the participants some experience in auditing to see what it feels like, and to identify some potential audit pitfalls. This part of the training is based on ISO 19011, “Guidelines for auditing management systems,” which provides guidance on auditing management systems.
ISO 19011 includes the principles of auditing, managing an audit program, and conducting management system audits, as well as guidance on the evaluation of the competence of individuals involved in the audit process, including the person managing the audit program, auditors, and audit teams. The final day will end with a test to demonstrate that the participant has understood the information presented and will include practical questions like identifying a nonconformance from provided data and writing the corrective action request.
It is important to note that even though training times may vary from provider to provider, the content will stay very much the same. The lead auditor training needs to ensure that all lead auditors working for all certification bodies have been trained in the same knowledge and skills. For this reason, the lead auditor training must be accredited by an accreditation body that verifies that the training and the exam are done according to ISO standards.
Why become a lead auditor?
Becoming a lead auditor, or even taking the lead auditor training, can fulfill many purposes. Along with being a necessary requirement to become a certification auditor, it can also help you as an internal auditor. You will know what ISO certification auditors are looking for, and you can apply this during your audit process. Likewise, a consultant who is helping companies implement a QMS will want to know how certification auditors think and taking lead auditor training can help with this. Lead auditor training can boost your career in many ways, so it is worth thinking about how it can help you.
About the author
Mark Hammar is a certiﬁed manager of quality/organizational excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a quality professional since 1994. He has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for quality, environmental, and occupational health and safety management systems, and is certiﬁed as a lead auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.