Auditing competence and effectiveness

Are you finding the appropriate evidence to evaluate the competence of your client's personnel? The Auditing Practices Group gives this advice...

team meetingThis article identifies typical activities performed by organizations to ensure the competence of their personnel and evaluates the effectiveness of actions taken to satisfy those competence needs. It also gives guidance to auditors regarding the types of evidence they should aim to find and provides examples where appropriate.


To satisfy the competence/effectiveness requirements of ISO 9001, an organization will typically need to do several things:

  • Identify what competences are required by personnel performing work that affects quality
  • Identify which personnel already have the required competences
  • Decide what additional competences are required
  • Decide how these additional competences are to be obtained – training of personnel (external or internal), theoretical or practical training, hiring of new competent personnel, assignment of existing competent personnel to different work
  • Train, hire or reassign personnel
  • Review the effectiveness of actions taken to satisfy competence needs and to ensure that the necessary competence has been achieved
  • Periodically review competence of personnel.

Throughout the process the organization is required to maintain appropriate records of education, training, skills and experience. However, ISO 9001 does not specify how the process will be established or the exact nature of the records to be maintained.

In auditing an organization’s compliance with the competence and training evaluation requirements, an auditor would typically be seeking evidence that the following issues are addressed:

1. An organization needs to identify what competencies are required by personnel who perform work that affects quality

The objective of the auditor should be to determine whether there is a systematic approach in place to identify these competences and to verify that the approach is effective. The outcome of the process may be a list, register, database, human resources plan, competencies development plan or contract.

Discussions could initially be held with top management to ensure they understand the importance of identifying the competencies required. These may also be a potential source of information regarding new or changed activities or processes, which may lead to different competence requirements in the organization.

A review of competences might also be needed when a new tender or contract is being considered. Evidence of this could be found in related records. Competence requirements may be included in contract documents where the activities of subcontractors can have an impact on processes and/or product quality characteristics.

2. Are competent people assigned to those workplace activities necessary to control the quality characteristics of its processes and products?

Verify that some form of evaluation process is in place to ensure that the competences are appropriate to the organization's activities, and that the personnel selected as competent are demonstrating those competences. Also, the process should ensure that any deficiencies are being acted on and the effectiveness of personnel is being measured. Verify that the activities that affect quality are performed by persons selected as competent.

Evidence may be obtained throughout the audit with an emphasis on those processes, activities, tasks and products where human intervention may have the greatest impact. The auditor may review job descriptions, testing or inspection activities, monitoring activities, records of management reviews, definition of responsibilities and authorities and nonconformity records.

3. The organization needs to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions taken to satisfy the competence needs and to ensure that the necessary competence has been achieved

The organization may use a number of techniques including role-play, peer review, observation, reviews of training and employment records. The appropriateness of a particular evaluation method will depend on many factors. For example, training records could be viewed to verify that a training course had been successfully completed – but note, this alone would not provide evidence that the trainee is competent. However, this same method would not be acceptable to evaluate whether an auditor performed satisfactorily during an audit. The organization may need to demonstrate the attainment of competence of its personnel through a combination of education, training and/or work experience.

4. Maintenance of competence

The auditor needs to verify that some form of effective monitoring process is in place and being acted on. Ways of doing this include a continuing professional development process (such as the one described in ISO 19011), regular appraisals of personnel and their performance, or the regular inspection, testing or auditing of product for which individuals or groups are responsible. Ongoing changes in competence requirements may indicate that an organization is proactive in maintaining personnel performance levels.

This article is an edited version of ‘Auditing competence and the effectiveness of actions taken’ from the website of the ISO 9001 Auditing Practices Group and is reproduced courtesy of ISO and the IAF. These papers were developed on current best practice and therefore have not been formally endorsed as IAF guidance or ISO/TC 176 interpretations. Follow the link for further information about the Auditing Practices Group
About the author
The ISO 9001 Auditing Practices Group is an informal group of quality management system experts, auditors and practitioners drawn from the ISO technical committee 176 quality management and quality assurance (ISO/TC 176), and the International Accreditation Forum. It has developed a number of guidance papers and presentations that contain explanations about the auditing of quality management systems. These reflect the process-based approach that is essential for auditing the requirements of ISO 9001.

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