ISO9001:2015 – Breaking Down the Emphasized Role of Leadership


By Carrie Salters
Freer Consulting Co.

Executive management leadership and commitment plays a critical role in setting the foundation for a successful ISO certified quality management system as well as ongoing efforts toward continual improvement. Executives must provide the structure and resources to set the foundation during implementation and through ongoing internal audits, corrective action, and continual improvement.

Being responsible for the effectiveness of the entire quality management system is a significant commitment, and since the role of the management representative was eliminated in the new standard, this responsibility now lies in the hands of the executive management team and the managers that deal with day to day activities.  Top executives are ultimately responsible for the performance of their management team, and therefore the successful implementation of ISO.

For small to mid-sized companies, especially those dependent on specific market sectors requiring certification, this task can be seen as a burden rather than an opportunity. As going lean is the new normal, executives expect middle management and their employees to do more with less in the day to day activities of providing quality products and services.

Articles concerning companies being understaffed and overworked from an entry-level employee to the highest levels of management are widely cited from the Harvard Business Review[1] to blogs. Businesses often see ISO as an extra burden that takes time away from day to day management tasks. What companies sometimes fail to recognize is that, if implemented properly, a quality management system can help the executive team set expectations that drive accountability.

By establishing policies, procedures, work instructions, and forms at the most critical control points, employees more clearly understand their role leading to more predictable actions and consistency throughout the organization. This consistency makes it easier for middle management to supervise their employees and hold them accountable.

Without structure, employees will invent ways to complete tasks rather than following established processes. The company’s monitoring and measuring controls are the means by which the company knows if it is achieving its goals. Objectives and targets provide specific guidance to employees to move them in the direction the company would like to proceed. Without this guidance, employees can be left without a path laid out in front of them causing them to be less efficient both in their day to day and longer-term tasking, as well as stray from the company’s strategic goals.

When taking a hard look at the job description of an employee, it might become apparent that the employee is doing tasks above and beyond what is expected or sometimes less than is required. Allowing a flexible work schedule, shifting job responsibilities, cross-training, and ensuring an efficient and productive work ethic are just a few methods for ensuring adequate resource availability.

Responsibility for implementation, training, internal auditing, corrective action, and continual improvement of each process generally lies with middle management, but leadership and direction from executives are paramount to the success of a solid quality management system. If there is a strong leadership at the highest level, employees will have buy-in to the system. Employees at every level are instrumental to the success of the quality management system, even if commitment to certification starts at the top.

If these managers are not comfortable interpreting the elements of the ISO standard and incorporating them throughout the procedures to ensure compliance, they could hire a consultant to guide them through the implementation process, provide training on internal audits, feedback on corrective action, and guidance on passing the certification audit. Once fully established, the quality system can be sustained by the management team…with proper leadership.

[1] Sarah Green Carmichael, “The Research is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies,” Harvard Business Review, August 19, 2015.


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