A lead auditor is a senior position in a public accounting firm or accounting office in a private sector company. The individual filling this position is responsible for directing auditors who will conduct fieldwork during an internal or external audit. The lead auditor may also achieve a professional designation with this title that provides them with specific experience and education in the auditing field. The professional license will often require the auditor to have a formal degree from an accepted college or university, work experience and the ability to pass a test that focuses on auditing topics.
Internal audits are often less formal than external audits. The lead auditor will often not get too involved in internal audits unless they are required to do so. Internal audits will fall under the direction of an audit manager or other accounting staff due to the informal quality of the audit. Owners and executives will also have a lower involvement with internal audits as the information gathered will not be examined by individuals outside of the company. A lead position may be necessary for large organizations — such as publicly held companies — in order to ensure internal audits meet current standards as required by law.
The audit process for external audits will often follow several well-defined steps. This process is the crux of the lead auditor’s job responsibilities. The individual will work with clients to develop an audit plan that meets the needs of the client and fulfills the legal obligations of the audit. The lead auditor will also select team members who will work on the audit; team members typically will have industry experience where the client completes most of their operations. This ensures a high audit quality and that language or terminology used during the audit is not foreign to team members.
During the fieldwork phase — the main process of the audit — the lead auditor will assign tasks and duties for each team member. While lead auditors will often conduct a portion of the fieldwork, they also have the responsibility to ensure each auditor completes tasks and activities according to audit standards without getting drawn into the minutia of accounting paperwork. Any significant errors or problems with the audit will also fall under the lead auditor’s responsibility for correcting or providing direction. Most audits require a lead position to be onsite during audits. This position will act as a liaison between the client and the accounting firm partner who oversees all audits conducted by the firm.