Focusing on five key elements can help you to balance the technical and non-technical demands of this role.
Being an audit manager can be challenging. Various crucial technical and non-technical skills are associated with the role. We explore these in some detail in our faculty webinar What makes a good audit manager, but they fundamentally boil down to the five key elements we consider in this article. Managing people, managing projects, managing stakeholders, managing technical elements and managing yourself.
This can be a tough one, especially if you are managing people you know well. People management needs confidence and it sometimes comes naturally, but not always. Even if it does, everyone is different and there will be some people you find easier to manage than others. Key imperatives when managing people are to:
- set clear objectives;
- provide a clear briefing; and
- set clear deadlines.
This may seem rather obvious but in the heat of the moment with numerous plates spinning, it is something managers can easily get wrong.
Briefing more junior colleagues on tasks requires flexibility of approach that reflects their ‘skill and will’. One key concern of participants on our webinar was that some of the more junior staff may resist moving away from being mollycoddled and don’t want to try things for themselves. In situations like this, think about why there is such resistance.
It could simply be a lack of confidence. Try giving colleagues responsibility for smaller tasks and agree on a timescale for checking back. Communicate clearly what needs to be achieved and then encourage juniors to take responsibility for the how. Provide reassurance and positive feedback as appropriate and then increase the level of autonomy moving forward.
Managing the project
Many auditors progressing to the manager role will be taking full responsibility for the budget for the first time – often without proper training on the required approach. There are some key considerations here.
- Budget early, allowing sufficient time for a conversation with the client about fees.
- Consider a bottom-up approach to budgeting rather than simply basing the budget on the previous year, although the previous year actual costs can be useful to refer back to.
- Be sure to select an appropriately skilled team (including experts) and budget appropriately for their time and costs.
- Remember, the audit quality bar is high. Don’t underestimate how much resource is needed to perform a quality audit, even when it appears to be a straightforward assignment.
- Keep track of time charged to the client code and check in with team members as necessary.
- Learn lessons from previous years and other audit assignments when managing the budgetary process.
None of this would appear to be rocket science. Audit managers are, however, often caught in the middle of multiple stakeholders and this can make it challenging to block out the time needed to properly develop and manage a budget. This was described well by one of our webinar participants, who shared their experience of “running between and carrying out audits while at the same time managing assignments”. Particularly in smaller firms, there can be so many hats to wear!
Don’t underestimate how much resource is needed to perform a quality audit, even when it appears to be a straightforward assignment
When you become an audit manager, the number of stakeholders you have to manage may well increase dramatically. There may be a number of audits to manage and multiple clients you are the key client contact for – and there may be a different responsible individual (RI) for each one.
A key imperative when managing multiple stakeholders is planning to communicate with them early. Excellent communicators always listen effectively – to the client, peers, more junior colleagues and indeed the RI – and seek to appreciate their positions. This isn’t to avoid challenge; quite the opposite, as this puts you in a stronger position to challenge and have a robust conversation if needed. By communicating early and effectively, you may be able to avoid the conversation having to be robust, even on areas of judgement and disagreement – or why the client doesn’t have those materials ready on time.
When you become an audit manager, the number of stakeholders you have to manage may well increase dramatically
Interestingly, the interactions with participants during our webinar revealed junior colleagues to be the most challenging stakeholder group. One person commented, for example, that junior team members often don’t refer back to notes taken at the internal team briefing, which can result in actions being missed.
A useful approach here can be ‘back briefing’. After briefing a junior, get them to brief you back, explaining their understanding of an objective and how they plan to carry out the work. This gives you an opportunity to see how much they know and how much further guidance you need to give.
Managing technical elements
This is the part of the audit manager role which perhaps comes most naturally, since it builds on skills developed in previous, more junior roles. If anything, the big challenge for managers can be to not take on too much of the technical element themselves, but to let others take the strain as required, freeing more time for the audit manager to focus on the process.
The big challenge for managers can be to not take on too much of the technical element themselves
There are some crucial technical considerations for an audit manager:
- Plan well. Remember that the application of ISA (UK) 315 is all about efficient as well as effective auditing.
- Get RIs involved where necessary – but without overburdening them.
- Make the case for professional scepticism when briefing, monitoring and reviewing the work carried out by the audit team.
- Develop file reviewing skills, being careful to not be overzealous when raising review points as this can be demotivating.
- Remain technically up to date.
The last point is particularly important. In some respects, the buck stops with the audit manager when it comes to the practical application of auditing and financial reporting standards. So, despite all the other challenges of the role, continuing professional development (CPD) is crucial.
CPD is also increasingly important, as ICAEW rules on CPD are changing. Fortunately, membership of the faculty and its resources (see below) can help to keep you up to date.
The key challenge here is to recognise that the audit manager role is different to that of the audit senior or the RI, although it is likely to vary in different firms, of course. Larger firms may well have established role expectations and you might have learnt from your experience working for managers yourself. In smaller firms the lines tend to be more blurred; it might be that the RI has a closer, more direct relationship with the audit team.
A very important consideration for the audit manager is to prioritise where they choose to spend their time and focus. Don’t forget to dedicate sufficient time to tasks and activities that are important but not urgent. Being effective, being efficient, being ‘good’ isn’t just about doing more. There is only you, you need to do things differently, deliberately, to succeed.
One webinar participant put this brilliantly when they explained that: “On time management, what works for me is to try and do everything that must be done today PLUS something that you don’t need to do today.”
Reflecting on key elements
Do think about these five key elements as you look to progress into the audit manager role, or, if you are an RI, as you coach and mentor colleagues who are doing so. When thinking about the elements it’s important to build your self-awareness of what needs to change as your role changes – and how to do it. A good audit manager isn’t just an older, more technically knowledgeable version of a trainee. Or sometimes they are – but that is surely missing a trick!
Additional ICAEW resources to assist auditors with their careers and career progression include the following:
- Tips for audit seniors – key personal and practical technical skills.
- Becoming a responsible individual – key mindset changes.
- Attractiveness of the profession – a multi-part Insights special.
- How accountancy can win the talent war – a podcast on how to retain and attract talent.
Nicky Clough, Director, Commercial and Financial Awareness, Skills and Coaching Programmes at Insight Training.
Peter Herbert, Director, Technical Programmes, Insight Training.