How to Meet the Leadership Requirements in ISO 9001:2015 – Part 1

The importance of leadership in ISO 9001 is not new. But, why has it become such a big deal now? Because success of the Quality Management System (QMS) relies on resources necessary to keep it going once it has been implemented – and that comes from top management.


ISO defines top management as the “person or group of people who directs and controls an organization at the highest level. Top management has the power to delegate authority and provide resources within the organization.” –ISO 9000:2015 (3.1.1) so the intent of Clause 5 Leadership relates directly to those individuals defined above as top management.

Principle 2: Leadership

The second management principle, upon which the Standard is founded, is dependent on top management’s ability to “[Leaders] establish unity of purpose and direction of the organization. They should create and maintain the internal environment in which people can become fully involved in achieving the organization’s objectives.” ISO 9004:2009 provides the following additional commentary:

a) Key benefits:

  • people will understand and be motivated towards the organization’s goals and objectives,
  • activities are evaluated, aligned and implemented in a unified way,
  • miscommunication between levels of an organization will be minimized.

b) Applying the principle of leadership typically leads to:

  • considering the needs of all interested parties including customers, owners, employees, suppliers, financiers, local communities and society as a whole,
  • establishing a clear vision of the organization’s future,
  • setting challenging goals and targets,
  • creating and sustaining shared values, fairness and ethical role models at all levels of the organization,
  • establishing trust and eliminating fear,
  • providing people with the required resources, training and freedom to act with responsibility and accountability,
  • inspiring, encouraging and recognizing people’s contributions.

Clause 5 Leadership

Section 5 of the Standard is titled Leadership and most of the requirements are very close to those in the ISO 9001:2008 version under Management Responsibility. The three subsections require that top management demonstrates leadership and commitment with respect to the QMS, such as being accountable for the effectiveness of the QMS, ensuring resources are available, promoting continual improvement, ensuring the Quality Policy and objectives are in place and consistent with the goals of the organization and the QMS and defining the organization’s roles, responsibilities, and authorities.


The other subsections cover the need for customer focus and requirements for the Quality Policy. These requirements are also present in the 2008 revision, with slight modifications. The role of Management; to ensure that the QMS remains suitable, adequate, and effective has not been diminished, even though some requirements, such as the role of Management Representative, have been removed. Top management still remains important.

How will you meet the requirements?

As mentioned, all of these requirements have been present in previous versions of the Standard so radical change is not needed. What is required is a clear demonstration that top management is involved in the QMS. Here are some things that can prove top management has a commitment to the QMS:

  • QMS effectiveness is measured, and management is involved in assessing this.
  • The Quality Policy and objectives are in place per management direction, communicated in the organization,and tracked for progress.
  • The QMS is part of the business processes, not just a ‘stand-alone’ system.
  • Resource needs are reviewed and addressed by management.
  • Continual improvement is promoted and supported by management.
  • There is a way to ensure customer and legal requirements are understood and met, and staff understands why this is important.
  • There is a management focus on customer satisfaction.
  • Organizational roles, responsibilities, and authorities are assigned, understood, and known to those employees who need to assess a person in a certain role.

It is also important to note that the requirements for management review are still present in the 2015 revision, so this significant method of feedback to top management on the maintenance of the QMS is still here. This process continues to play a critical role in demonstrating that top management is fully engaged in the QMS.

Involving top management isn’t optional!

It has long been said, “If you want your QMS to succeed, you need support of top management,” and, “Why would you waste all the effort to implement a system, if management isn’t going to support it?”

Without management’s support, a quality system will be set adrift in deference to other priorities and the benefit of using continual improvement to focus on customer needs will be lost. Furthermore, unless you’ve realized that ISO 9001 is not just a set of rules with the sole purpose of certification but a business plan, a compilation of best practices intended to be imbedded within and across the entire enterprise you have missed the point. This is the part of it, you cannot achieve without full commitment from top management.

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