The Leadership Challenge


The ISO 9000 standard contains high expectations for top management leadership and involvement to provide guidance to the overall quality management system. In fact, nearly 15% of the standard’s text is devoted to the subject of top management responsibility. Clearly, the designers of the standard have realized the imperative for the perspective and authority that top management must bring to ensure effective operation of the system.

Because of this, it can be expected that ISO registrars will approach the auditing of the standard with a heightened focus on the function of management in the system. The auditors will be looking for objective evidence that management has a regular discipline of involvement and leadership as prescribed by the standard. This evidence must be more than merely words of support for quality. The activities outlined in the requirements are all demonstrable, and records of such activities will be carefully reviewed.

This extra focus on the role of management is explained in the opening text of the Management Responsibility requirements section:

“Top management shall provide evidence of its commitment to the development and implementation of the quality management system and continually improve its effectiveness…” (ref. 5.1, ISO 9000).


The ISO 9000 standard lists six distinct requirements for top management. By “top management” the standard refers to the individual at the top of the organization (e.g. CEO, President, Chairman) and his/her direct reports. Depending upon the size and structure of the organization, one or two layers of management below this top group may be included in this scope.

In summary, the requirements for this leadership group are:

  1. Consistent commitment to making the quality management system effective as demonstrated by regular communications, establishment of a quality policy and quality objectives, management reviews and resource provision (ref. 5.1).
  2. Ensuring customer focus throughout the organization as demonstrated by clearly determining and consistently meeting customer requirements resulting in improved customer satisfaction (ref. 5.2).
  3. Establishment and communication of a quality policy that articulates management’s intention that the company complies with all requirements (customer, regulatory, etc.) and will continually strive to improve the overall quality management system’s effectiveness (ref. 5.3).
  4. Ongoing planning of measurable product quality and process quality objectives to be sure they are established and met throughout the organization, even when changes to the quality management system are made (ref. 5.4).
  5. Defining and communicating responsibility and authority for everyone affecting the quality management system, including a designated management representative who has the authority to ensure the system is established and maintained and is responsible to report the system’s performance to top management (ref. 5.5). This requirement also includes the need to establish effective communication processes within the organization regarding the effectiveness of the quality management system.
  6. Conducting a regular management review of the quality management system to ensure that it remains suitable, adequate and effective to satisfy the company’s quality policy and accomplish the organization’s quality objectives (ref. 5.6).

A management team responsible for preparing their organization for ISO 9000 registration will need to give focus and attention to the planning and implementation of the specific requirements for top management and the oversight of the development of the organization’s overall quality management system.