Bud Weightman is the founder and president of Qualified Specialists LLC, an organization that has been serving the oil and gas industry for more than 32 years. He has a unique blend of experience for more than 40 years and has supported industry business sectors such as operators, equipment manufacturing, drilling operations, field services, and supply chains.
Weightman has assisted with providing solutions related to project integrity, management system integrity considering business needs when deploying management systems for certification, electronic deployment of management systems between company locations and geographically (internationally), reduction of time it takes to obtain an API license or API/ISO quality management system certification, and benchmark assessments of drilling contractors.
He is also Exemplar Global’s longest-term certified auditor, with an association going back an impressive total of 29 years.
In this conversation, we discuss how to spot people who can make great auditors, ways to have productive conversations with auditees, and the value of integrated audits for career development.
EXEMPLAR GLOBAL: It’s always interesting to hear about how people came to auditing in their careers. So how did it happen for you?
BUD WEIGHTMAN: I worked for quite a few years in the U.S. nuclear industry, starting with Brown and Root performing vendor surveillance performing work for the South Texas Nuclear Project about 100 miles outside of Houston. This meant that we traveled around the country, approving materials and equipment for shipments going to the project. I was in that group for several years and had the chance to move over into auditing. I felt I was in a pretty good position for that because I was looking at mechanical equipment, electrical equipment, and civil and structural materials. Typically, they assessed your experience by one of those three; fortunately, I had enough experience for all three of those competencies. Auditing was a natural move from there. We were auditing the vendors sending products to the South Texas Project.
EG: What were those products?
BW: Everything was related to energy. I verified compliance to the contract for items such as motors, structural steels, valves, piping, and quite a few other things. It all depended upon what they were purchasing.
EG: Obviously there are some special technical considerations within the energy sector that you needed to understand before you could audit within the space. Was your initial training in engineering?
BW: I started my career in 1973, when I came out of high school and went into a pipe fabrication shop that provided product for fossil fuel and nuclear power. I began by learning quality control, and got experience in areas like inspection testing, nondestructive examination, piping inspection, visual and dimensional inspection, qualifying welders, things of that nature. I stayed there for a few years, and then transitioned into going onto nuclear power plants that were under construction. With each job I took, there was more to learn, so I got more training and more certifications. Most of my work has been hands-on, and I’ve also had a couple of thousand hours of technical training through this experience.
EG: Your experience shows that there are many different pathways into auditing as a career. Anyone who is doing technical work, and who has been an auditee, has perhaps observed the process from that side of the desk and said to themselves, ‘Well, heck, I could do that—I know what the job entails, and I can learn the rest of it.’ We need to show people all of the available pathways that they don’t even recognize that could lead them into auditing as a technical career.
BW: You’re right. That also applies to someone who is in engineering or writing technical specifications, or really any of the different types of jobs that are audited during an audit. That could be an ISO 9001 audit, an integrated QHSE audit, what have you… it doesn’t matter what the standard is. When I train auditors, I create a spreadsheet covering an individual student’s aspirations for becoming an auditor. With those aspirations, I tell them, ‘If you are going to audit an organization, do yourself and the auditee a favor, and know what you’re going to be auditing.’
What I mean is this: Some of these people you’re auditing haven’t changed jobs very much in their careers. If they started in a steel mill, they may still be working in that steel mill. If they’re a pipe fitter, same thing. So, as an auditor, when you go into some of these facilities, you’re talking to people who have spent their entire career doing this work. If you’re going to audit welding, there are many sources of information on welding inspection and training, and it’s possible to learn a lot through research without taking any formal training. With that said, it always good to take courses where you can get CEU or CPD credit.
Then there’s the element of auditing that involves document control. If you happen to go into a laboratory, that’s a whole other animal, it is completely different. You might have laboratory requirements, some of which have just changed over the last few years in laboratory certification via ISO/IEC 17025. You can even take laboratory technicians that become auditors, and I’ve encouraged people over years to do that because they are doing a very specialized task. If nothing else, they could start by coming into the audit as a subject matter expert. From there they can move further into the field. I’ve identified about 40 different job functions that lend themselves to transitioning into the auditing function.
EG: Everybody who does this work, or is it even tangentially associated with it, can help encourage people to get into auditing. A lot of folks are retiring, and it seems that we don’t do a good enough job promoting how good this career can be. How can we be better at that?
BW: I try to find some characteristic a person has that I can build upon as part of a discussion about how they could do a really good job in auditing. For example, one characteristic might be someone being very observant and just having an innate ability to spot the minutiae in a process. That’s a good talent for an auditor because they spotted something that’s a little bit different and they bought it to your attention. Then you have to ask if the issue falls within the boundaries of the specification that’s being looked at. And if it turns out that in fact there is a significant deviation, you need to talk about why—and also try to understand how that person spotted that.
So that’s one thing. Another thing is that people like to learn. I see some people that I believe have lost interest in their job, and you can tell by the job that they do. They’re there, they have the pad, they’re checking off yeses and nos. But it’s not about yes or no, it’s about recording evidence of what you actually saw and holding a good communication with the people that you’re auditing. So, part of that involves being able to listen and understand what people are saying. That’s another great characteristic for an auditor. The personality and behavior are important, too, because we’re not quality police. We’re there to determine whether the organization is conforming or not conforming.
Auditors have opinions, but the auditee is doing the manufacturing of this product that the auditor may have never seen before. As an auditor, how would I know more about that product than they would? It’s not possible unless you have a degree in that field or spent time in that industry. Being able to learn, being able to translate that learning into international work, and being about to translate it further into any industry are all important.
For example, after I left the South Texas Project, I was talking to a guy who had been in the audit group with me. I found out that he was working for the Texas Department of Corrections, auditing the prison system. You have people auditing for NASA. I know another old colleague who was in the grocery store one day and he saw a package of meat that said, “Certified Organic.” He wondered what exactly that meant, so he researched it, got trained, and now he audits certified organic products.
EG: Not to oversimplify it, but most everything is a widget to a certain extent, and there is a process behind any output that reaches a customer, whether it’s an internal or an external customer. The auditor needs the mindset to examine the links in the chain of those processes and make sure that they are reliable. That role is important in ways large and small, whether one is auditing certified organic meat or a prison system. They’re all systems made up of processes that need to be validated.
BW: And there are certain rules that you play by—today, we call the rulebook ISO 19011, the guidelines for auditing. That lays out the processes for you, and depending on what you’re auditing, and whether it’s a regulated industry or not, it’s more or less what applies. A big part of this is learning how to ask questions and make people feel comfortable. To do that, a good auditor has to be conscious of the way they hold their own energy. If you feel comfortable and confident in yourself, you can pick up a conversation pretty easily and make people feel at ease when you’re talking to them as part of the audit. When you ask questions, don’t just read chapter and verse from the standard—talk to them about their job, how to do their job, and then you weave those requirements into the conversation naturally.
EG: As much as this is a technical field, there’s also a lot of art to the job as well. It seems that the best auditors really get the soft-skills side of the job, the way that you psychologically deal with an auditee and get information out of them without their feeling like it’s the third degree. It’s an important part of the job.
BW: Have you ever met a stranger? I’ve been to more than 30 countries, and I’ve never met a stranger.
EG: Well, again, that’s a mindset. Some people would say, ‘Sure, I meet strangers every day,’ but those people may not have the mindset of curiosity and the confidence to get into a conversation and to ask questions. The fact of the matter is, so many of us don’t want to admit that we don’t know something. Most people want to cover up and say, ‘Yes, sure, I know about that,’ or ‘I know something about that.’
BW: The British have a good saying: They ‘suss’ it out. People suss it out real quick; they understand when you’re trying to pull something on them.
EG: Let’s close with training, because pretty much everyone in the Exemplar Global audience is a trainer, or has been trained, or does both. What are some of the things you’ve gotten out of training during the course of your career, and which of those lessons do you like to share with people that you train?
BW: We often train on quality management systems for those in the energy industry—API spec Q1 and Q2. I’ve also been involved with documenting some of the training for the American Petroleum Institute, and I’ve been on their committees for more than 30 years. The key is to try to give the students something real. Don’t tell them what the standard says! They can read. Show them what the standard means. Illustrations and case studies are always a big thing in training for me. In my earlier days in this industry, in the late 1980s, I picked up some information in a 36-hour ISO 9001 auditing course: How to take notes and how to follow back up on audit criteria. I teach a derivation of that now, where I talk to my students about the fact that, when you’re auditing, it’s like an Eastern religion: We’re all separate, but we’re all one. I illustrate that with process auditing. For example, if you’re going to stop and audit, how many different elements could you find by stopping at a machine in the machine shop? And the students will tell me that they look at this or look at that and I’ll say, ‘That’s great, but that’s not really what I want. I want to know what information you are going to collect so you can audit multiple other sections a little bit later.’
Once we get through the exercise, there are about 20 things to recall and they say, ‘Wow, can we take a picture of that?’ Of course, that’s part of it because that could be kept in their auditor notes and used during the audit. It’s fair to keep an audit notebook, right? You then have your tricks of the trade there with you, so you don’t forget them.
EG: Application is key. If you tell somebody something, that’s OK; if you show them, that’s better; but when you let someone do something for themselves, that’s when it really sticks in their minds.
BW: Exactly. I’ve been doing this work for a while now and I still keep at it, learning new things. I’ve been with Exemplar Global for 29 years as a lead auditor. Around the time when I was starting, I was part of the original assessment of the first U.S. registrar accredited by RAB (now ANAB), Quality Systems Registrars. I was auditing with Cass Tillman, who is still one of the owners of QSR today. He’s still out there doing this work, and so am I. We’re a lot older than we were, but he we are still doing it, only better.
EG: That’s one of the things about this industry, especially now that remote auditing has become more widely accepted due to Covid. Because there’s less of the grinding work on the road, people can do it for longer. Being able to audit from one’s home office is great if it can be done efficiently.
BW: There’s another side to that. People are retiring, and it’s certainly an issue. When I talk to younger folks I say, ‘Look, you still got a lot of years of auditing ahead of you, unless you win the lottery. If you want to get set up as an auditor, set yourself up for integrated management system audits.’ That means they understand quality, they understand health and safety, and they understand environmental. Of course, those are just three of the management systems that ISO has. Overall, they have more than 80—and I’m just talking about the management system standards.
So that’s another important lesson I would offer: Consider integrated management system audits if you aren’t doing them already. I know quite a few contracted auditors who audit ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001. Eventually many of those people will probably work for registrars given their experiences with integrated audits. There’s always someone looking for good, experienced help.