Skip to main content
Becoming a Lead Auditor

Becoming a Lead Auditor

I was first introduced to the ISO 9000 Management System in 1998. The Company I worked for at the time was one of few companies in Jamaica to have its Quality Management System certified to ISO 9001 and also to have its Food Safety System HACCP certified. One of my main job functions was to complete all documentation requirements for both systems inclusive of being the recording secretary for the Management Review Meetings.  What seemed as a very simple task led to the development of love and appreciation for the role of quality in an organization and the benefits to be derived when quality systems are implemented and maintained. Also, I became very intrigued with the auditing of these systems. This was the beginning of my lifelong dream to become an auditor for Quality Management Systems.


So, who is an auditor? ISO 19011:2018, details the Guidelines for Auditing Management System, and defines an auditor as a person who conducts an audit. This document also states the three different types of audits that may be performed. They are First Party Audit, Second Party Audit and Third-Party Audit.


The First Party Audit is also referred to as an internal audit. This audit is usually performed within the organization by persons employed to the organization. These internal auditors are not allowed to audit their area of work.


The Second Party Audit is an external audit, which can be performed on a supplier by its customers or can be performed on the firm/plant/business by other external interested parties. Usually, there is a contract in place between the supplier and the customer and the audit will be carried out as per the rules of the contract. 


A Third-Party Audit is performed by an audit organization that is certified to perform audits and is independent of the firm/plant/business/company. There should be no conflict of interest between both parties and this audit is carried out for certification, accreditation, licence approval, statutory and regulatory approval. This is called an external audit. 


Who is a Lead Auditor? A Lead Auditor is an auditor who conducts certification and Third-Party Audits. If an audit is required to be performed by a team of auditors, this team will be led by a Lead Auditor who has certain responsibilities above the other members of the team. The Lead Auditor will be responsible for the overall planning, conducting and reporting on the audit. It also includes assigning audit tasks and making the final decision on non-conformities.


Requirements to become a Lead Auditor: The Process of becoming a Lead Auditor involves three major activities. They are (1) Experience (2) Attends the Lead Auditor Training and (3) Work with a Certification Body.


“Experience teaches wisdom”.  Begin by obtaining on the job experience. My experience started with me correcting procedures, work instructions and making changes to forms. In making these corrections, I questioned why changes were made and recognized my need for greater understanding. My boss at that time, introduced me to the standard and I am eternally grateful. Of course, reading the standard then did not make sense, but as time went by, I started to the see the link between all the documentations I was working on, the Management Review Meetings and the internal audits. As my interest and knowledge about the standard grew, I received in-house training as an internal auditor for both ISO and HACCP standards.  This knowledge and training helped me to land a job as Quality Manager for another Company. In this new role I had complete responsibility for the implementation and certification of the Company’s management system to ISO 9001:1994 Standard. This new experience gave greater understanding of how to manage and audit an entire system and gave critical understanding of the working of the various processes within the system.


The next step to becoming a Lead Auditor is to obtain Lead Auditor Training. This type of training is put on by a certified body. Lead Auditor training normally requires 4 to 5 days of in-depth training and culminates in a written examination. Passing the examination is mandatory especially if one will be seeking employment with a certification body.


During this training, one will be exposed to all the clauses of the standard, their meaning and application. Training also exposes one to the guidelines of auditing management systems using ISO 19011 as reference. A successful Lead Auditor is required to know how to manage the auditing programme and how to conduct the audit, to know his/her roles and responsibilities and to know the relevant competencies, skills and attitude needed to function in the job.


Now that you have gained years of experience working as an internal auditor and knowing the standard, as well as passing the Lead Auditor examination, the final step in the process is to be employed by a certification body. Having gained employment is the “beginning to an end”. Each certification body has its own unique set of rules which you will be required to fulfill. Generally, you may be asked to complete some training with them which includes observing your performance as an auditor. You will also be required to work as a team member before you either get the chance to lead a team or to carry out an audit on your own. Lead Auditing is totally different from internal auditing and thus you will be required to gain the experience in this new role.


Auditing can be a rich and rewarding endeavor. You are given the opportunity to carefully examine a company’s management system against a standard, to highlight progress and improvements and to encourage corrections to be carried out when needed.  Now you have gained the title of Lead Auditor - Happy Auditing.



Written by Patricia Thompson

Date:  November 24, 2020