ISO 9001 - The Move from Management

Responsibility to Leadership

The move from ‘Management responsibility’ to ‘Leadership’ is perhaps the most significant and far-reaching change contained within ISO 9001:2015, although the actual impact will depend very much on where each organization is starting from.

Sub-clause 5.1.1 identifies specific aspects of the quality management system where top management are expected to demonstrate both leadership and commitment.

(When ISO 9001:2015 uses the term ‘top management’ it is referring to a person or a group of people at the highest level within an organization, that is, the people who coordinate, direct, and control the organization.)


This means a top list for top management:

  • This starts with top management taking accountability for the effectiveness of their organization’s quality management system.
  • They must ensure that their organization’s quality policy and quality objectives are consistent with the organization’s overall strategic direction and the context in which the organization is operating. Top management must also work alongside their people in order to ensure that the quality objectives are achieved.
  • In addition, top management must ensure that the quality policy is communicated, understood, and applied across the organization.
  • Top management must also ensure that quality management system requirements are integral to the organization’s business processes – that is, the quality management system must not be just a ‘bolt-on’.
  • They must promote awareness and the adoption of the use of both the ‘process approach’ and ‘risk-based thinking’ and must make sure that the resources required for the effective operation of the quality management system are made available.
  • Top management must stress the importance of effective quality management and of conforming to the requirements of the quality management system.
  • They must make sure that the quality management system is achieving the results intended and must lead people to contribute to the effective operation of the system.
  • They must drive continual improvement and develop leadership in their managers. All this amounts to a considerable amount of focus for top management.

ISO 9001:2015 requires top management to be much more ‘hands-on’ with respect to their quality management systems than ISO 9001:2008 does. Where the word ‘ensuring’ is used in sub-clause 5.1.1, top management may still assign this task to others for completion, that is, delegation plus confirmation.

Where the words ‘promoting’, ‘taking’, ‘engaging’, or ‘supporting’ appear, these activities cannot be assigned and must be undertaken by top management themselves. Implementers will need to make top management aware of the new requirements, and the fact that they will now be audited as a matter of routine.

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