Which personality type is best suited for auditors of the future?

Why do we care about competencies and personality types so much? We have seen in recent years that the general conditions for us auditors are changing rapidly. An example of this is the ever-growing amount of available data that makes getting a holistic, and valid, view of the risk/opportunity perspective increasingly difficult without the support of partners within the organization. This development forces auditors to rethink their strengths/weaknesses profile. Why? Because working with partners requires personal skills – something auditors have previously not been dependent on to such an extent (by the way, you can find our main article, which goes through these points in more detail here). The goal of our blog article series on individual competencies is to help auditors rethink their approach to be even more successful in the future. Go and try it for yourself!

My name is Alexander Rühle. I have been a passionate auditor since 2006 and for the last five years I have also been CEO of zapliance. In my auditing career, I have worked with over approximately 1,000 different auditors. During this time, I have stumbled across many different types of people, and one thing has become clear: the personality of each auditor not only has a significant influence on the way they work, but also on the audit results. There are many exciting things about working with different types of auditors and in some cases,  you observe behavior patterns that you can adapt for yourself. some auditors have problematic attitudes towards work and their behavior is marked by mistakes. This is something we should talk about much more openly in our profession!

The classic: lack of trust.

There is one past example of lack of trust that immediately came to my mind: we were on a project with a trusted auditing team of three auditors. The audit manager was not on site but placed great importance on error-free on-site documentation of the results. The team had little freedom; the audit manager had prepared the audit plan in great detail with what felt like 1,000 audit steps. Generally speaking, this is not a bad thing. However, as you know there is often a conflict of interest in the allocation of time. On the one hand, there is “clinically pure” documentation and “processing of the audit steps,” and on the other hand, there is an examination of the content. By the end of the first day it was already clear that the predefined audit steps were not viable. As a well-rehearsed team of auditors, we naturally consulted with the head of audit and proposed a classic process- and risk-oriented approach with an adequacy and effectiveness audit; unfortunately we were not successful.

The reason for the audit manager’s behavior was the upcoming Quality Assurance Review. He was afraid of not looking good externally. As a result, he did not trust us to carry out the right audit procedures for the fear that possible errors would fall back on him. We, the auditors, had the impression that the head of the audit department knew better. That was despite the fact that he was actually sitting at the headquarters while we were the ones on-site checking and talking to the specialist departments. The result was that we wanted to provide real added value, but spent most of our time perfectly documenting each audit step. So, by the end of the project, we were not only demotivated but also dissatisfied with our work. We were not allowed to exploit the potential of the audit, at least from our perspective.

It’s obvious that not all aspects of this experience can be attributed to the personality traits of the audit manager. Nevertheless, I believe that this example perfectly illustrates the different personality traits of a person, and on the other hand can be used to discuss which type of auditor is best prepared for the future. By this I am referring to the ability of the need to work more with partners within the organization.

Let me start by saying that each person is unique in his or her personality, and there is no single type of person who always reacts appropriately to future requirements. What can be said though is that there are individual facets of personality that become increasingly important to auditors during their careers. I examine these facets in more detail.

Most widely used: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.

I use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which classifies the personality of each person based on four areas:

  • Attitude
  • Sensory perception
  • Decision
  • Lifestyle (see Senninger & Weiß, 2011)

This classification goes back, in essence, to the founder of analytical psychology Carl Gustav Jung, and is used today in coaching and human resources. The MBTI assumes that each person’s attitude and lifestyle go more or less in one of two directions. The same is true for the areas of sensory perception and decision-making.

In the case of attitude, the two directions are “extraversion” and ” introversion”. The area of attitude looks at what a person’s attention, energy, and motivation are directed toward. If someone is more the extroverted type, they tend to lead outward in these points, i.e., they are more sociable and have a broader range of interests. Introverted types, on the other hand, are both more concentrated and more withdrawn and therefore tend to focus inwardly.

When I think of the audit manager from the example I mentioned earlier, I think of the “introverted” type: there is little interest and trust in others. It almost seems as if the audit manager is forced to rely on others without fully supporting the concept of conducting an audit in cooperation with the team.

Important: weak competencies in an area of personality can be trained

Especially in connection with his or her leading position, it becomes clear that, at least regarding the aspect of personnel management, the most suitable personality has not necessarily been selected. Does this mean however that the audit manager must be replaced? No! It is possible to train weak areas. In this case, the manager has to build up trust in their team, set clear goals, and let the team be responsible for their work. Of course, this requires the realization that team leadership of the future will not work according to “law & order”.

The second area, sensory perception, describes the processing of sensory impressions. This area looks at how a person perceives reality. The MBTI assumes that a person leans toward “intuition” or “sensing”. People with an intuitive approach to things rely on their ‘sixth sense’. They interpret situations and consider them in an overall context. Sensory people on the other hand, tend to perceive situations soberly and rationally. They see the visible raw data, so to speak, and are usually very detailed and exact.

The difference can be seen using an example of a group of people. An intuitively-minded person would see a line of people in this group, consisting of waiting and annoyed people. A person with a sensory disposition, on the other hand, would focus on individuals in the description of the same group of people, for example, a medium-sized man in a black coat and a strikingly made-up, blonde woman.

The head of auditing described earlier now seems to be leaning towards the “sensing” area. Why? The focus on the accurate and standardized documentation of the audit steps – the raw data – and the lack of need for the “big picture”. The audit manager acts very rationally because of this. Objections from the team, which could help them to grasp the overall picture better and optimize the content of the audit, are ignored.

The personality of auditors of the future must be versatile

The question remains: what is the best inclination in the area of sensory perception for auditors of the future? There is no clear answer to this. On the one hand, auditors are dependent on a rational, sensory approach to numbers. On the other hand, the intuitive component will become more critical in the future when it comes to working with different partners. The interpersonal aspect of gauging the mood in a group will also become more important for successful auditing work. The good news for auditors of the future: people can also have well-developed skills in both of these areas.

However, what can an audit manager do to strengthen their intuitive competencies? Simply put: everyone has a ‘sixth sense’. Some people are aware of their ‘sixth sense’ and rely on it. Some people however have a well-developed ‘sixth sense’ but are unsure whether they can rely on it. There are also people whose ‘sixth sense’ is not well developed.

For the latter two groups to strengthen their intuitive competence, it is advisable to talk to other people about this sixth sense’, whether in their private or professional lives. For example, after a work meeting with your colleagues to discuss how they perceived the appointment, you may notice that your perception is shared by the others, which in turn strengthens your confidence in your own ‘sixth sense’. Or however, you may notice that your colleagues have a completely different perception to you. The best approach in this case is to ask your colleagues what they base their perception on. This not only shows that you are interested, but also helps you to learn from others. However, every auditor first needs to know combination of the characteristics leads to better audit results.

What role does personality play in decision making?

The third personality area of the MBTI is decision making – an area that describes the way decisions are made. There are two features in this area. On the one hand, there is the “thinker” who rationally evaluates available information and comes to a conclusion with the help of an objective value system (including laws). On the other hand, there are those who prefer feeling when making a decision and are not guided by an objective value system, but rather by their personal value system or their ‘gut feeling’. Another factor that is important to the “feeler” is that all of the people being affected by their decision should be considered.

Looking at the example mentioned in the introduction, it becomes easier to classify the head of audit. He seems to be a “thinker”. Why? A gut feeling is not discernible, and the head of audit carried out a standard audit and does not allow the team to pursue alternative approaches. Another factor is that the methods of the auditors involved in changing the audit procedure were not listened to.

However, how relevant is the personality area of decision making for auditors in the future? I think it is a similar situation to the area of sensory perception; both the “thinker” and the “feeler” are relevant. The “thinker” because information-based decision making in auditing has always been and will always be necessary. And the “feeler” because working with different partners will become increasingly important, especially taking others into account when you make your own decisions to make sure you “take them along” on the way to a common solution.

The key to expanding your competence as a sensitive decision-maker: communication!

What helps you to develop your competence as a sentimental decision-maker? Talk to your partners in the company about professional and private matters. This way, you will learn a range of individual opinions and evaluations and get an impression of the people you work with. This not only helps you to assess how others receive your own decisions, but it also helps to avoid power-sapping conflicts. And we all know much time is spent in a company on unproductive and avoidable policies.

The fourth and final facet of a personality is called “lifestyle” in MBTI. This refers to the question of how open a person is to impressions from their environment. Again, there are two tendencies: on the one hand, there is the “perceiver” who is open to new opinions over a long period and who is also prepared to reconsider their decisions when further information is available. They act spontaneously and can adapt to unexpected situations. On the other hand, there is the “judger” who decides before they have all the information. Once a decision has been made, the “judger” adapts to it, but never rejects it completely. The “judger” acts systematically, tends to control and acts with little spontaneity. If you compare the head of auditing described above with this facet of personality, it quickly becomes clear: this person is a “judger” who is interested in systematics and control.

In my perception of the profession, I would classify the majority of auditors as “judgers”, who know pretty much how the world works. By the way, I do not take myself out of this classification!

However, as described in previous blogs, in a constantly changing world it is difficult or impossible to predict and control things 100%. If I had to choose the one characteristic that describes auditors of the future, then it would have to be that they should be open to new impressions and go into an audit without any preconceptions – being a perceiver.

However, how do you become a good “perceptive” person? The keyword here is “patience” because only then can all information be taken into account. It is quite possible that this also means a lot of stress for auditors. After all, deadlines do not take new information into account. The important thing is not to lose your cool and to delegate tasks to others early enough, so it doesn’t jeopardize the schedule.

Finally, it is important to say that the MBTI’s four personality areas are a concrete tool for checking how well prepared you are for your future as an auditor. Some practical advice? The MBTI is available for free on the Internet – just give it a try and learn to assess yourself better.

As always, please feel free to discuss this article in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.

Yours signatur-alexander-ruehle

Articles from the series “The Future of Auditing” appear every two weeks on our blog. The title of the next article is “The importance of social competence for the auditor in the future.”


Senninger, T. & Weiß, A. (2011). Gruppe, Team, Spitzenteam. Das Handbuch zur Teamführung. Münster: Ökotopia Verlag.

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