The Role of an Observer During an Audit

Audit, audit by exception


A customer of ours wants to participate as an observer in an upcoming audit. I’ve not been able to find much information about the role of observer – what they can and cannot do.

For instance, I assume that they cannot ask questions during the audit interview process. Does anyone have an appropriate checklist for an observation – list of dos and don’ts?


The auditors should be notified of a presence of the observer in advance. There are times where this may not be allowed depending on the type of the audit.

The customer should sign a confidentiality agreement on not disclosing any information outside the audit process. The rules should be established as part of this confidentiality agreement.

An observer (customer) may not engage in any part of the audit.

The observer may not interfere in any aspect of the audit (may not inject, provide opinions, argue a finding, speak for or against a finding, use the audit information for a future punitive measure).

If questioned during the audit, the observer should explain the role as observer. Ideally this should be brought to the attention of the auditor in advance.

These basic rules ensure that the audit is not compromised in any way and the customer’s request to witness the audit is conducted in a professional manner.

Dilip A Shah
President, E = mc3 Solutions,
Technical Director, Sapphire Proficiency Testing Services.
Past Chair, ASQ Measurement Quality Division (2012-2013)
Former Member of the A2LA Board of Directors (2006-2014)

For more on this topic, visit ASQ’s website.

One thought on “The Role of an Observer During an Audit”

  1. From our program:

    Purpose: For any audit, the role of the observer is to assess the effectiveness of the audit team and the audit process. Did the audit team demonstrate sound knowledge of the system and procedures, conduct thorough interviews; challenge and question responses, when appropriate; effectively employ the checklists? Were the members of the audit team qualified to do the audit and adequately independent? Were the conclusions of the audit consistent with the information obtained during the audit?

    Rules of Observer Behavior:

    1. The Audit Observer shall:
    a. Remember at all times that the role is purely observational.
    b. Maintain confidentiality throughout the audit process from the entrance notice to the final report.
    c. Maintain confidentiality of the names of the individuals interviewed and the content of the interviews, even after the audit report is issued.

    2. The Audit Observer may:
    a. Take notes during an interview.
    b. Express concerns about the audit process to the Lead Auditor only and in private. At his or her discretion, the Lead Auditor may invite the audit team into these discussions.

    3. The Audit Observer shall not:
    a. Talk during any interview or walkthrough.
    b. Take any active part in the audit program. This includes asking questions of interviewees, participating in audit team discussions unless invited to do so by the Lead Auditor, etc.
    c. Separately, on their own, further review or assess any aspect of the program or area being audited prior to the issuance of the final audit report.

    Responsibilities of Lead Audit With Respect to the Observer:
    1. Include the Audit Observer in the distribution of the audit notification.
    2. Provide the Audit Observer with a copy of the audit checklist prior to the start of the audit.
    3. Invite Audit Observer to the entrance meeting, audit interviews or walk-throughs, team meetings, and the exit meeting (if held). The Audit Observer should recognize that team discussions may, unintentionally but necessarily, be impromptu.
    4. Include the Audit Observer in the distribution of draft and final audit reports.


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