EHS Management

Beyond Technical Competence: Choosing a Qualified PSM Auditor

Every 3 years, you need to complete an audit of your process safety management (PSM) processes. Often, the emphasis is on the standard and the facility—but in order to conduct a thorough and effective compliance audit, you also need a skilled auditor. And that means more than someone who knows what the standard says.

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Many different organizations have created competency frameworks for auditors—but these are often specific to financial auditing or other types of auditing that are very dissimilar to PSM auditing. Fortunately, the Institute of Internal Auditors has created a competency framework for EHS auditors that could be especially useful to employers who are planning their next PSM compliance audit. The framework suggests general competencies, functional competencies, and technical competencies that make for a skillful EHS auditor.

General Skills

Whether they’re auditing your balance sheet or your maintenance procedures, your auditor will do a better job if he or she has mastered some basic auditing skills that include:

  • Professional ethics. Your auditor must understand and adhere to established professional codes of ethics, which require fundamental integrity, objectivity, and confidentiality.
  • Objectivity. An auditor should avoid conflicts of interest and cultivate an unbiased and impartial approach to evaluations.
  • Reasoning and analytical skills. Strong reasoning skills enable auditors to use information gathered during an audit to make sound decisions in a timely manner and to develop appropriate recommendations and possible alternative solutions to problems.
  • Interpersonal skills. Because auditors must be able to gather accurate information from many different people, they must have strong interpersonal skills and be able to work well as part of a team.
  • Communication skills. Interpersonal skills are one vital area of communication skills, but it is also important for auditors to have strong writing and presentation skills.
  • Diligence. An auditor should not make decisions based on incomplete data when better information is readily available.
  • Flexibility. An inflexible approach cannot account for changing circumstances, so auditors need to be adaptable.
  • Intuition. Although auditors should make every reasonable effort to obtain the information needed for decision making, they may also need to make judgement calls in the absence of complete information, based on their experience and observations.

Functional Competencies

In addition to broadly applicable ethics and reasoning skills, there are some more specific skill sets a good auditor should have, including:

  • Information technology skills. A lot of information needed to assess compliance with PSM and other regulations is found in databases and electronic systems; an auditor should be able to use these, as well as using other information technology to generate recommendations and reports and complete other audit tasks.
  • Interview skills. A more specific skill set than the general “interpersonal skills” mentioned above, auditors need to be able to obtain relevant information from interviews and evaluate that information for accuracy.
  • Mentoring skills. A good lead auditor needs to be able to pass along her skills to others and provide feedback to other members of the audit team.
  • Conflict resolution skills. Another specific subset of “interpersonal skills,” conflict resolution is an essential skill for anyone in a leadership position. PSM auditors must sometimes deliver bad news or get different departments to work together to solve problems—all of which is easier with strong conflict resolution skills.
  • Powers of observation. These aren’t ‘superpowers,’ in the sense of something supernatural, but rather a skill that comes from practice, and that enables an auditor to compare the situation in the facility to what the records say, and to what the standards require.
  • Supervision. A PSM audit is seldom a one-person job, so auditors need to be able to effectively assign and oversee a team effort.
  • Writing skills. Auditors must be able to prepare written reports that clearly summarize issues, evidence, and alternatives.
  • Time management. Setting goals, establishing priorities, and completing audits in a timely manner are essential to a successful audit.
  • Documentation. In order to demonstrate compliance—or noncompliance—an auditor must clearly document the audit process and findings.
  • Legal protections. Auditors must be able to identify and protect sensitive information that is used or uncovered during an audit.
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