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ISO9001 And The Leadership Clause

In ISO9001:2008 we had Management Responsibility, in ISO9001:2015 however we have Leadership as a clause, surely, it's just a simple name change, branding if you like. Actually no, it's quite a deliberate distinction they have made in the standard and it's aimed at engaging more of the company.

Previously a company would hire a Quality Manager and that was it, the Quality Management System, gaining & maintaining ISO9001 was their main responsibility and everyone else was free to focus on their own patch. Then, companies and executives would wonder why their Quality Management System wasn't effective or worse why they failed audits or had unhappy customers. If there is one sure way of killing your ISO9001 Quality Management System, it's the absence or abdication of senior leadership in the organisation.

Make no mistake then, with ISO9001:2015, the days of "delegating" the Quality Management System to the Quality Manager & then forgetting about it are over, here are the 10 things you need to know about this clause.

Clause 5.1 Leadership and Commitment

The 1st statement of this clause really sets the scene, "Top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to the quality management system". It doesn't say, it would be useful or the could it says they SHALL i.e that's you must and when it comes audit time that it what the ISO9001:2015 Auditor is looking for evidence for, your leadership commitment.

There are 10 things that they are classifying as leadership commitment, so here are a few hints

a) Take accountability for the effectiveness of the system

as a Senior Leadership team and ultimately the CEO you are responsible for the Quality Management System being an integral part of your business, so you need to step up, support it and lead by example, if the systems fail it's down to you.

b) Ensure the quality policy and quality objectives are established and are compatible with the context and strategic direction of the organization

Lead the process of developing the quality policy and the objectives of the quality management system to ensure that they line up with the needs of the business and the strategic direction you are taking. The objectives should add value to your organisation, be prepared to demonstrate this.

c) Ensure the integration of the system requirements into the organization's business processes

The Quality management system shouldn't be something that stands off to the side of your organisation that you need to tick the box to keep alive. You need to have it ingrained in every facet of your organisation and be a key part of everyone's objectives and way of life, including yours as a Senior or executive leader.

d) Promote awareness of the process approach and risk-based thinking

At a Senior Leadership level you should be championing the use of the process approach, Plan, Do, Check, Act should be your mantra. For decisions you are taking you should be thinking and talking about the risks both positive and negative that the outcome of the decision carry and in decisions happening throughput the organisation creating an expectation that this thinking is happening and being used needs to be part of your leadership approach. If someone comes to you with a proposal and you don't ask about the risks and the process, then you've failed the organisation (and your processes!)

e) Ensure that the resources needed for the system are available

As I mentioned it's no longer a case of it's all on the Quality manager for your ISO9001:2015 Quality Management System the leadership team need to ensure that they have included in their thinking the amount of time required to adequately run the system across the business. That means you need to think about how much time your staff will be involved in the system, what tools, equipment, what software, what training, documents and support systems are required. Once you think about this you need to ensure you fully resource it so that it's going to be a success and not over stress the people and the system.

f) Communicate the importance of effective quality management and of conforming to system requirements

As leaders you have to walk the walk and talk the talk every chance you get. You need to be the shining example of what an individual engaged and supporting your ISO9001:2015 Quality Management system would look like. This includes coaching conversations with anyone within the organisation that you have the opportunity to speak to, team briefs, quarterly state of the nation discussions, performance reviews and of course personal objectives. Quality Management must be omnipresent in your organisation because everyone is talking about it.

g) Ensure that the quality management system achieves its intended results

Like any process you need to measure the outcomes to ensure you are heading in the right direction. That means you actually need to set targets for your quality management system and these should be at both business and individual levels and they should be meaningful not tick the box items since that would invalidate item f) about.

h) Engage, direct, and support persons to contribute to the effectiveness of the system

This isn't too dissimilar to f) but it's about building real engagement of the system and ensuring that your people feel supported to follow and improve the system hence making it effective. This means that there is no process within the system above reproach, if it's a bad process it's a bad process and you need to improve it, that's part of the deal with ISO9001:2015

i) Promote improvement

Promoting improvement is about celebrating all steps forward, but as importantly celebrating those steps that didn't work but never the less were attempts at improving the system. Why? You need to encourage the belief that it is ok to not hit the mark if you are attempting to improve, how many times did Edison try to make a lightbulb??

j) support other relevant management roles to demonstrate their leadership as it applies to their areas of responsibility

The great thing about your ISO9001:2015 Quality management System is that it's a team event, remember we stated at the start, it's no longer Ok to drop it on your Quality manager & walk away, everyone is involved. That means as a Leadership team and the CEO you all must pull together to ensure that the processes and principals of the system are embedded in every department and are of the organisation. That means providing each other with the resources and support needed to do that and having each other's backs when times get hard. 


ISO9001:2015 has moved on from the realms of "management" and has embraced real leadership. This leadership is at all levels within your organisation and they don't need to have a title but the CEO or MD need to take a key role in the whole process.

Imagine your quality system is a living breathing body, in the previous revision if your Quality System was responsible for everything, the thinking and decisions, pumping the blood around the body trying to keep it alive and dare I say it getting ride of the waste in the system. In the ISO9001:2015 system that load has been spread as it is in our real bodies, Leadership is the heart of the process, it's what pumps the blood around the system and keeps everything alive, the Quality Manager is the brain of the system and knows how to make it work and ensures everyone knows how to do their part.

With out a heart, without leadership then, your quality system will quickly die and be fondly remembered at good bye parties and over coffee on the quiet days. 

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Wednesday, 30 September 2020

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