The role that internal auditing plays within organisations is changing and the need for competent internal
auditors who are able to address this change is also increasing. In South Africa internal auditing is recognised
as a ‘scarce skill’ profession. Prior research addressed competencies in various disciplines, general
competencies for internal auditors, and the role and function of chief audit executives, but little research has
been done on the level of importance of the competencies requirements for the head of the internal audit
function. This study aims to expand this knowledge area first by identifying the levels of importance of various
competencies as presented in formal professional guidance. Thereafter, these levels are compared with the
perceptions of South African and of global internal audit leaders of the importance of these required levels of
competencies for chief audit executives. The article concludes that the terminology used in the various
guidance documents of the IIA, and in studies performed by the Institute of Internal Auditors are inconsistent
and therefore unclear and should be standardised. The majority of internal audit leaders do not have the same
perception of the relative importance of the competencies for chief audit executives as those prescribed by the
professional guidance. Furthermore, quality-related issues are not addressed effectively in the guidance which
reveals significant differences in the levels of importance from those held by the various internal audit leaders.
Other areas where significant differences exist are soft skills, areas focussing on the performance of the audit
engagement, as well as operational and management research.