The Importance of Leadership Commitment for effective ISO Management Systems

Published on: November 29, 2022

One of the key requirements of the main ISO Management System Standards is Leadership and Commitment by top management. This blog explains why this is so important during the development, implementation and maintenance of a Management System, the consequences of not having top management involvement, and what evidence can be used to demonstrate leadership involvement during an Internal Audit.

As an ever-hot topic in business conversations, effective leadership is arguably one of the most important qualities in a workplace, as it can determine a business’s success. It can be described as the ability to influence and encourage others, take risks, act decisively, communicate effectively, and the list goes on. Almost every situation in business requires a leader to vary behaviour to fit the prevailing circumstances, which will directly contribute to the success of any business. But how can you ensure that leadership commitment transpires into business improvement projects, such as the implementation of an ISO Management System Standard?

As a key requirement across all main ISO Management System Standards, Leadership and Commitment are vital contributions to the certification-readiness and maintenance process. Its importance is reinforced from top to bottom in each core standard, as the Management System must be aligned with business objectives, which are usually formed by top management.

For example, in the ISO 9000 Family of Standards, top management is defined as the person or group of people who directs and controls an organisation at the highest level. They must ensure that the chosen standard’s requirements, with its policies and objectives, are consistent with the strategic context and direction of the business.

Among other topics, Clause 5.1 in the ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System Standard specifies that top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment by:

  • Taking accountability and responsibility for the effectiveness of the Quality Management System, ensuring it meets its purpose;
  • Ensuring that policies and objectives are established for the intended management system;
  • Integrating the management system into the organisation’s existing processes;
  • Promoting the use of process-approach and risk-based thinking;
  • Communicating the importance of conforming to the standard and its requirements;
  • Engaging, directing and supporting employees and other stakeholders to contribute to the effectiveness of the Quality Management System; and
  • Promoting a culture of continual improvement.

The development and implementation of any Management System is a massive task for any business, which at times can be quite complex. Therefore, it should go without saying that there should be full leadership support throughout the entire process, as described above. However, leadership involvement by top management is too often overlooked, causing significant problems with the system implementation, and can become issues raised when the business has their Internal and External Audits.

What is a Management System?

A Management System is a set of interrelated and interacting elements of an organisation to establish policies and objectives, and processes to achieve the objectives. The documented information of a Management System generally comprises policies, processes, procedures and templates that define how a business is managed and operated towards achieving its goals. A Management System can also conform to the requirements of one or more ISO Management System Standards.

You can read more about it here.

What happens when leadership fails to support a Business Management System?

Leadership to support Business Management System

Although the decision to implement one or more ISO Management System Standards to achieve Certification mostly comes from top management, it’s common to find that their involvement stops there.

The Leadership and Commitment clause in the main ISO Management System Standards often ends up being neglected, as top management solely relies on their employees to develop and implement the Management System for them. In some cases, top management doesn’t even attend their Internal or External Audits, because they haven’t made it a priority to learn about the new Management System, or be involved in any part of the process.

Without involvement of top management throughout the certification process, there are some damaging consequences which could not only impact their certification, but also the business as a whole. Some of these include:

  • Prolonged timelines and expenditure increases, due to a delay in response from decision-making agents, such as top management, who have removed themselves from the process.
  • Inaccurate reflection of business objectives. Employees developing the Management System may feel that they need to ‘fill in the blanks’ and create policies, goals and objectives, which often don’t directly align with the organisation’s vision set by top management. This comes from a lack of commitment, communication and leadership throughout the implementation process, which will ultimately delay the process or result in a system that will not work for the business.Prolonged timelines and expenditure increases, due to a delay in response from decision-making agents, such as top management, who have removed themselves from the process.
  • Overwhelmed and confused employees, as there is insufficient guidance and support from top management. The employees are spending valuable time on this project, rather than the jobs they were hired for, and find themselves overwhelmed by decisions that should be made by top management, resulting in a lack of motivation. The business may struggle to retain employees, and risk losing the employees knowledge of the Management System with the turnover.
  • Multiple Conflicting Management Systems. This results from top management’s lack of knowledge and adoption of the Management System, where some people could still be using an old business management system version, which should have been superseded. This will interfere with the organisation’s strategic plans and goals, as there is confusion around which system to use and refer to. The duplicated and/or out of date documentation will also create a time wasting activity as employees might have to record data in both Management Systems.
  • Failure to maintain Certification. Without top management’s support and guidance on a regular basis, the policies and procedures will be left neglected and forgotten about until it is too late, risking suspension or cancellation of their certification during their annual Surveillance Audits. If the business loses their certification, it means they could lose work and important revenue streams, as they may no longer be meeting contract requirements for tenders, grants, or clients.

How can top management demonstrate leadership support when implementing and maintaining a Management System?

It goes without saying that a business cannot successfully operate day-to-day without effective leadership from top management. So why would it be any different when developing, implementing and maintaining a new Management System into the business?

The involvement of top management during this process is crucial, to ensure that the Management System policies, procedures and objectives directly align with the business’s strategic direction. Top management is responsible for communicating this to the team, and ensuring that these policies and procedures are being followed correctly, so that business objectives and strategic goals can be met. Regular check-ins with employees should be conducted to make certain that the Management System has been effectively integrated into the organisation’s existing processes.

The “set by example” effect is also applicable here – each person will take the policies and procedures as seriously as leadership does. This is especially sensitive as the development and implementation of the Management System can be a daunting process, one that requires motivation and encouragement, before and after achieving Certification.

Involvement of top management when implementing and maintaining a Management System

Below are some of the actions top management must put into practice to support the effective implementation and use of the Management System:

  • Active involvement in the decisions around the Management System, supporting its deployment and promoting its agenda.
  • Encourage the team to meet the goals proposed by the standard. For example, with ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems, it could involve meeting customer, regulatory and statutory requirements.
  • Define and communicate policies. Top management endorsement is vital to set the Management System as a priority across all staff and stakeholders.
  • Ensure appropriate resources are available for implementing and maintaining the Management System.
  • Review the Management System performance and act upon any required adjustment.

By ensuring the Management System works cohesively with the organisation’s business processes, the organisation will not only meet the ISO Standard’s requirements, but also ensure it relishes all the benefits of working with an effective Management System. Reduced costs, increased productivity, continuous improvement culture, and improved staff morale are just a few of those benefits.

How can you approach the Leadership and Commitment clause when conducting Internal Audits?

As you progress your studies to become an ISO Management Systems Internal Auditor, it’s important to cover how you can approach the Leadership and commitment clause in your audit. Make sure you look for consistent evidence of a “hands-on” top management approach. This should be assessed during interviews with the staff and leadership members; key questions such as the below should help you:

  • How are policies and objectives established?
  • How do they align with the business strategy and organisational context?
  • How are the policies, procedures and business objectives communicated within the organisation?
  • How are the requirements of the ISO Management System Standard(s) integrated into the business processes?
  • Which resources were determined for this?
  • How do you promote the importance of an effective Management System within the business?
  • What are the initiatives for encouraging continual improvement?
  • Can you provide some examples of leadership commitment and effort?

Other evidence of top management involvement could be found in:

  • Management Reviews, within the meeting minutes;
  • Business strategy plans and meetings;
  • Information provided on the organisations websites; and
  • Annual reports, such as Goals, Objectives and Targets reports.
Our Management System Internal Auditor Training is a practical eLearning course that teaches how to conduct effective Internal Audits in accordance with the main ISO Management System Standards. Click here to find out more, or give us a call on 1300 614 897 for more details.

Brooke is the Marketing Coordinator and Content Developer at ISO Certification Experts and ICExperts Academy. She is responsible for all of the communications with our audience, including well-researched content across our website, blogs, social media channels, and email marketing. Her passion revolves around simplifying complex topics, helping prospective clients to make well-informed decisions with ease.

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