As a “wanna-be auditor”, and with the help of Linda Jackson and Food Focus, I would also like to acknowledge Donna Crockart, Reshmee Beedasie, Cal Snow and Thea Laufs. Thank you so much for taking the time to let me interview you and speak to you about becoming a Food Safety Auditor.
In this final episode, we discuss what it takes to BE an auditor. This is not the right job for everyone and there are several personality traits that best suit this demanding work. Have you got what it takes?
It takes a certain type of person to become a Food Safety Auditor. As mentioned by one of the interviewees, the frustrations with new auditors lie more in their character traits than in their qualifications. As someone who wants to look into auditing as a career path, here were some of the characteristics and personality traits discussed with me from auditors in the South African food safety industry, in conjunction with ISO190113.
Be professional: especially while conducting an audit. It is important that the auditor behaves with a strong sense of propriety.
Be ethical: (i.e. fair, truthful, sincere, honest and discreet). It takes a strong and confident person to stand up for what is right in this industry.
Be open-minded: (i.e. willing to consider alternative ideas or points of view). Beyond this, it is also important to be considerate (see more later). Remember that you may be scrapping the ideas that the business owner or quality manager has about how their system is run. For instance, they may think it is in pristine condition until you point out things like peeling paint. Be mindful of how you deal with others.
Be perceptive: (i.e. aware of and able to understand situations). Remember you are entering their place, beyond that the quality manager has likely gone all out to try and impress you. You may also come across as intimidating to them. Just keep this in mind when you are considering what is actually a non-conformance.
Be versatile: (i.e. able to readily adapt to different situations). This point was elaborated on by some of the interviewees. They highlighted that one must be flexible and adaptable when things don’t go as planned. This is because so many things can go wrong on the day of an audit, i.e. whether it be getting lost, or getting a flat tyre on your way there, or having to put up with people who don’t want you around. Dealing efficiently with unexpected processes and challenges that come our way is a skill you need in this career.
Be tenacious: (i.e. persistent and focused on achieving objectives). As an auditor, you are always chasing deadlines. You do the audit (maybe even multiple audits) during the day and then you need to submit the audit report before its duel. Your work as an auditor is never done.
Be decisive: (i.e. able to reach timely conclusions based on logical reasoning and analysis). This is a trait that was repetitively brought up. The major point seems to lie with the fact that you need to declare all the non-conformances found at the audit, on the day of the audit, usually at the closing meeting. Non-conformances will later be written up in the report as well, but you cannot add new non-conformities.
Be open to improvement: (i.e. willing to learn from situations). You need to be constantly willing to learn, especially with the food industry advancing so rapidly into the digital era.
Be culturally sensitive: (i.e. observant and respectful to the culture of the auditee). Likewise, with being open-minded, it is important to be respectful. You may often find yourself in someone else’s space as an unwanted entity. It is important to be considerate of this.
Following instructions: It sounds simple, but simply listening and following instructions can be the difference between ending up in the bush vs arriving on time at the client.
Be humble: It is easy to be overly confident when you are in the position of the auditor. However, it is important that you remember that you are a visitor in someone else’s space. Reshmee suggested that as an auditor, ensure that you do not underestimate the intelligence or training of the auditees – stay humble.
Be considerate and kind: First impressions matter. Remember this when introducing yourself. As the auditor, you may come across as intimidating. You have the power to make their day worse or better. Making it worse can have some serious disadvantages to how you are treated for the rest of the day. As mentioned earlier, the manner in which you interact with a client is important. Ultimately you are there because you want to help them gain a more safe system or setup.
Be organised: This goes along with being well prepared and acting professionally onsite. This is one of those things that needs to happen behind the scenes with a sense of integrity.
Time management is essential: This one also comes with experience, so no need to worry too much at an earlier stage. It is important that you know what you need to cover when conducting an audit, i.e. your travel time and report write-ups. You have a lot of requirements you need to check despite the standard, however, as you go along you will learn tips and tricks to help you. For instance, it may be easier to have them perform a mock recall, rather than going through all the traceability documentation.
Be observant but do not be overly pedantic: Especially if you do not have a lot of practical experience. For instance, a spelling error in their policy should not be a “big deal”. However, do not skip out or overlook things that may be significant. Remember that they are paying for the audit to identify areas of improvement. A committed quality manager will usually appreciate constructive criticism and will welcome the findings.
Overall, that you need to know a lot about yourself and what you stand for as well as how you treat others before you enter this industry. The industry tends to inherently have a negative view of Food Safety Auditors and although we see the position as one which is to improve the bigger picture, we need clients to be on board. If they can see that they are respected, understood and being heard, there is a much higher chance that, as auditors, we will be successful in changing the food safety culture and integrity beyond the audit.
By Jesse Kelfkens
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