The newest crop of internal audit studies and surveys is giving internal audit leaders a mandate to continue their evolution from traditional assurance work to higher-level advisory services.

At the annual Institute of Internal Auditors General Audit Management conference, audit executives heard the early returns from the latest annual IIA Common Body of Knowledge study that suggest North American audit stakeholders would welcome more help in identifying strategic risks. The full scope of the study involved more than 1,100 stakeholders globally, such as board and audit committee members and C-suite executives. So far, the IIA has crunched the numbers on only the North American responses, as the survey just closed in late February, said Doug Anderson, managing director of CAE solutions for the IIA.

“We are hearing from our stakeholders what they want and what we can do,” said Brian Christensen, executive vice president at consulting firm Protiviti, which assisted with the study. “It is an opportunity for us as leaders in the internal audit profession to step forward, to step into maybe some gray space.”

The survey found internal audit stakeholders are generally satisfied that the profession assesses areas or topics that are significant, keeps up with changes in the business, and communicates the audit plan -- giving internal auditors some validation, said Christensen. “It acknowledges that we’re not so lost in the weeds, that we can’t bubble up what is important,” he said.

The results also suggest, however, that stakeholders are inviting internal auditors to take a bigger role in risk management, with 85 percent saying they’d like to see internal auditors do more to identify known or emerging risk areas, and 78 percent wanting help in facilitating and monitoring risk management and in identifying appropriate risk management frameworks and practices.

With limited resources and possible implications for independence, the rising mandate presents challenges for internal auditors, said Anderson. “We keep piling on chief audit executives, and they are stuck in the middle and pulled in different positions,” he said. “Stakeholders expect assurance, but they have an appetite for more advisory. The best way to do that is to build strong relationships.”

That theme of relationships comes through in a recent PwC report on the internal audit profession as well, which suggests relationships are one of the hallmarks of effective audit leaders. The latest State of the Internal Audit Profession survey, which gathered the views of 1,600 internal auditors and audit stakeholders, revealed a correlation between strong internal audit leaders and internal audit departments that deliver more value and higher performance levels, says Jason Pett, internal audit solutions leader for PwC.

PwC’s interpretation of the survey results suggests some specific characteristics of the most effective internal audit leaders that others in the profession can emulate to raise the bar on performance. Those include creating and following through on a vision for the internal audit department and finding and retaining the right talent.

The most effective internal audit leaders hold senior positions in the organization with titles of vicepresident or above, the report says. They demonstrate an “executive presence,” by educating and influencing stakeholders while also earning their trust, and they form relationships and partnerships across the business that raise the level of engagement.

As with the IIA’s CBOK study, the PwC poll found internal audit stakeholders are asking audit leaders to provide more value to the business, said Pett. “Sixty-two percent of stakeholders said they expect more out of the internal audit function,” he said. “That’s good. That’s a very positive thing. That stat is nothing but opportunity. If that was zero who expected more from us, that means we’ve plateaued as a function. We want people pushing that bar higher.”