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Chad Kymal


The Expanding Role of Leadership in Management System Standards

New versions of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001 set clear expectations

Published: Friday, February 5, 2016 - 17:25

ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015, and ISO 45001:2015 establish clear expectations for top management. Not only are executives accountable for the effectiveness of these respective systems, they also have specific tasks ranging from establishing objectives to supporting relevant managers in their roles.

All of these standards require that managers integrate requirements into the organization’s business process, thereby creating the need for an integrated management system (IMS). These managers will need to focus on the planning process to ensure that these systems meet the intended outcomes, as well as to establish performance objectives.

For those implementing an environmental management system (EMS), ISO 14001 expects the organization not only to include the prevention of pollution, but also protection of the environment. This requires top management to learn and understand what the standard means when it says “protect the environment.” Topics such as sustainability, climate change mitigation, and protection of biodiversity and ecosystems are suggested by the standard in a note.

The need for consistency between standards

The International Organization for Standardization Technical Board understood the need for consistency between the standards and asked the Joint Technical Coordination Group (JTCG) to create a directive for the different management teams. The result is “ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1—Consolidated ISO Supplement, 2013—Annex SL—Appendix 2.” It sets out the high-level structure, identical core text, common terms, and core definitions that are to form, when possible, the nucleus of future and revised management system standards such as ISO 9001 for quality management systems (QMS). In referring to management system standards (MSS), the directive states, in part:
• “All MSS shall, in principle, use consistent structure, common text and terminology so that they are easy to use and compatible with each other.
• “The guidance and structure given in Appendix 2 to this Annex SL shall, in principle, also be followed (based on ISO/TMB Resolution 18/2012).”

In interpreting this, let’s start with the model that shows the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) structure of the standard, as seen in figure 1. The model shows how interested parties and customer expectations influence planning. Although the standard does not use the phrase “top management” in clause 6.0—“Planning,” this section definitely seems to be one that top management must be involved in, since clause 5.1.1 requires top management to be accountable for the effectiveness of the QMS. In planning, the organization determines the “intended results” of the management system, including the risks and opportunities that may influence it. Also, in this section the organization determines the quality objectives and the changes to the management system.

Once the plan is made, it is resourced, supported, and implemented as stipulated in clauses 7.0 and 8.0. There are no explicit requirements for top management in these sections of the standard. However, in clause 9.0—“Addressing performance evaluation,” the performance of the management system is evaluated. In clause 9.3—“Management Review,” top management reviews the overall progress of the management system and acts to improve it. So where is leadership in this model? Leadership is in the middle of the things, leading and directing the organization.

Figure 1: PDCA model for ISO 9001:2015. Click here for larger image.

Accountability for management system effectiveness

One of the first responsibilities of top management in clause 5.0, regarding leadership, is for top management to assume “accountability for the effectiveness of the QMS and EMS.” In the previous versions of the standard it was always the management representative who reported to top management about the performance of the QMS and the EMS. So the accountability for the effectiveness was previously delegated to someone reporting to top management. This change represents an important and expanded role for top management that will require the organization’s leaders to understand what the QMS or EMS represents, how “effectiveness” is determined, and to ascertain whether the QMS or EMS is performing satisfactorily.

What is a QMS?

The idea of quality has changed over time from “inspection” to “strategy,” as seen in figure 2. Today, quality represents meeting the needs and expectations of interested parties (including customers, suppliers, government, workers, and others) within the context of the organization. A note about the standards states, “Management can include establishing policies and objectives, and processes to achieve these objectives.” In other words, “quality management” can be considered management with regard to quality.


Top Management Expanded Role in Quality Standards


ISO 9001:2000- Process Focus and Customer Focus


Quality Operating System


Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award launched


Omnex started in Michigan


Quality Function Deployment–Kobe Shipyard


Fishbone Cause and Effect Diagram –Ishikawa


Quality Circle in Japan


Reliability Engineering–Department of Defense


Total Quality Control (TQC)–Armand Feigenbaum


Cost of Quality–Joseph Juran


Deming goes to Japan


Statistical Quality Control–W.A. Shewhart

Figure 2: What is quality?

Quality is no longer limited to just product quality. Although it’s important, product quality is only one of the expectations of customers. The QMS must address product quality, delivery, regulations, new products launched on time, resolving customer problems on time, or any other needs or expectations of interested parties that are deemed important to the business.

In this context, the quality management system could be considered the “business management system,” and quality planning is akin to business planning. The effectiveness of the QMS is really the effectiveness of the business itself, and ensuring this is a task that top management performs as its primary responsibility.

Large organizations with separate functions for business, quality, and environmental planning will need to specify corporate activities and relevant functional responsibilities. The various functions will need to work together synergistically to prevent redundant activities.

Because top management is accountable for the effectiveness of the QMS and EMS, it should also be involved in establishing the effectiveness measures in clause 6.0—“Planning.” This is not a requirement of the standard, but it is a logical extension of management accountability for an effective QMS. Keep in mind that the standard has multiple requirements for top management to ensure results, including:
• Clause 5.1e, where top management must communicate the importance of meeting and conforming to QMS and EMS requirements
• Clause 5.1f, ensuring that the QMS and EMS “achieve its intended outcomes”
• Clause 5.1g, ensuring that subordinates contribute to the effectiveness of the QMS or EMS

Rethinking the quality and environmental policies

Top management is required to ensure that the quality policy and quality objectives are “compatible” with the context and strategic direction of the organization. This will require the organization not only to rethink the quality policy and to update it, but also to consider its relevance each year as the organization’s strategy is formulated. The environmental policy not only must be aligned to the context and strategy but must also support protecting the environment. Protecting the environment includes using sustainable resource, mitigating climate change, and protecting biodiversity and ecosystems. This change in the environmental policy will not only require changes in the environmental policy, but also in the environmental objectives and EMS programs. Top management will need education and training, and the organization will need to add new competencies to meet the changes in ISO 14001:2015 in clause 5.2—“Environmental policy.”

Integrated management systems

A high-level structure requirement that is embedded in ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015, and ISO 45001:2016 requires top management to ensure that the QMS, EMS, and occupational health and safety (OHSAS) requirements are integrated into the organization’s business processes. The standard is asking for one set of business processes that satisfy all the requirements. This is a de facto requirement for organizations to adopt an an integrated management system (IMS), which consists of integrated processes, integrated risk management, and integrated audits.

Promoting process approach, risk-based thinking, and customer focus

Top management must understand both the process approach and risk-based thinking to be able to promote them effectively. Not only will they need training in these techniques, but they also will need to understand how they are applied within the organization. Organizations typically are functionally based and haven’t established risk-based thinking in the decision-making process. Promoting both these techniques are a part of the culture change now expected by ISO 9001:2015.

Additionally, the standard requires top management to determine the risks and opportunities of product and service conformance. The standard requires that top management keep the organization focused on the customer and the customer’s satisfaction (per clause 5.1.2). Top management is also asked to ensure that a customer focus is promoted throughout the organization (per clause 5.3d).

These responsibilities of top management in ISO 9001:2015 require a good understanding of processes, process approach, risk, risk-based thinking, customer needs and expectations, and customer satisfaction as it pertains to the organization.

Top management’s expanding leadership responsibilities

Top management might be surprised to learn that the standards hold them accountable for the effectiveness of the QMS or the EMS. This expanding role in management system accountability is considered by some to be the biggest change in the standards, and the biggest challenge for compliance. Top management must be involved in organizational improvements, working with others to make this happen. Top management is also asked to play an important role in promoting a process approach, risk-based thinking, and customer focus.

Some of the new and expanding responsibilities of leadership include:
• Accountability for the effectiveness of the QMS and EMS
• Rethinking the quality and environmental policies
• Integrating QMS and EMS requirements into the business processes via an IMS
• Promoting process approach, risk-based thinking, and customer focus

This article does not address all the requirements for leadership in ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015, and ISO 45001. To learn more, join Omnex and Quality Digest in a webinar titled, “Learn About the Expanding Role of Top Management in the 2015 Standards,” which occurs on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, at 2 p.m. Eastern / 11 a.m. Pacific. Click here to register and learn what top management, implementers and auditors will need to know about the role of top management in both QMS and EMS.


About The Author

Chad Kymal’s picture

Chad Kymal

Chad Kymal is the CTO and founder of Omnex Inc., an international consulting and training organization headquartered in the United States. He is also president of Omnex Systems, a software provider of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 27001 management systems. He developed and teaches auditor training for ISO 9001, IATF 16949, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001, as well as an Integrated Management Systems Lead Auditor training course where all three standards are combined in a single audit.

Kymal is also on the ISO/TC 176, ISO/TC 207, and PC283 committees for ISO 9001:2015 (quality), ISO 14001:2015 (environmental), and ISO 45001 (health and safety) management system development.