ISO Show

#181 The Integral Role of Leadership within ISO


ISO Standards provide a framework to help businesses manage various aspects of their activities. Whether that’s quality, risk, environmental or Information Security management, they provide invaluable guidance to establish an effective Management System.

One element that is key, no matter the Standard or subject area, is Leadership. Without this driving force, your Management System will not get the momentum it needs to truly benefit your way of working.

Today Ian Battersby will explain the integral role of leadership within the Implementation and maintenance of an ISO Management System, and how their active participation benefits the whole business.

You’ll learn

  • What is Leadership?
  • Where is Leadership referenced in ISO Standards?
  • How do Leadership get involved with the Implementation and Management of ISO Standards?
  • How does Leadership participation benefit the business?


In this episode, we talk about:

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[02:05] Episode summary: Ian will be discussing the role of Leadership within ISO Management Systems and how their active participation can benefit the business as a whole.

[02:30] What is Leadership? – Leadership is central to success in achieving any goal in business. It involves motivating a group of people toward a common pursuit, and it certainly isn’t straightforward without leadership believing in what it’s doing.

Without showing that belief, why would the workforce sit up and take note: ‘If it’s not important to you, why should it be to me?’

[03:30] Why should Leadership get involved? – The need for leadership has been recognised by Standards bodies, hence why it’s been made central to all Management System Standards.

For many years, Management Systems were separate from the day-to-day activities of running a business, often boiled down to just a person in a room with manuals, getting through certifications and earning a nice shiny badge.But this had little to no impact on the bottom line (be honest)!

But, a well-run Management System can have huge impacts and benefits on all types of organisation, and updated ISO standards aim to deliver that impact more readily, so leadership gets its own clause (Clause 5 – Leadership)

 [05:25] Clause 5.1 Top management shall demonstrate leadership & commitment – This boils down to taking accountability for effectiveness of the system, but how do you do this?

Firstly, the system can only be effective if it is designed correctly, so leadership must ensure it fits with its context of the organisation, which is required in Clause 4.

There are ways of doing this, but we favour a SWOT and PESTLE. This is simply to ensure that those establishing context don’t do it in a vacuum, opening up the floor to get input from everyone effected by the Management System.

This is key because Senior Managers need active involvement to understand how the system works, its resource needs and its performance.

[07:25] Ensuring quality policy and objectives are established and compatible with context and strategic direction – The quality objectives must contribute to the business, so there’s a role for senior managers to ensure that they are aligned and have a measurable contribution to the business.

What measures are included in your objectives which can demonstrably show that they affect the business in some way in a good way?

That’s what senior management have to do to link quality objectives with strategic organisational business objectives.

[08:20] Ensuring integration into the organisation’s business processes – The quality objectives must contribute to the business, so there’s a role for senior managers to ensure that they are aligned and have a measurable contribution to the business.

They must ensure integration into the organisations’ business processes, which in turn must be aligned with the context. They must also be relevant to the way the organisation runs and senior management needs to oversee a system which allows processes to do that.

[05:20] Promoting use of the process approach and risk-based thinking – This requires senior management to actually do some promotion – which is stipulated as ‘Shall Promote’. For those that don’t know, whenever the word ‘Shall’ is used in an ISO Standard, that essentially means you MUST do it.

In this instance, that means actually contributing the communications and raising of Management System Awareness.

Senior Management have to be involved in the process of describing to people what’s important, why the standards are important and that risk and process are central to the organisations operations.

[09:35] Providing resources for the system – There’s a number of resources that Senior Management need to consider, including:

  • People – Need to be enlisted to run a system and to operate the system throughout the organisation.
  • Competence – You may need to invest in training if required.
  • Expertise in the standard – Do you have expertise in-house on the Standard you’re certifying to? If not, you will have to invest in training or additional help from a third-party.
  • Systems / Access and Documented Information – Do you have a place for hosting of documentation, workflows, forms? Further considerations are needed for required authorization and controlled access.
  • Time – Implementing and maintaining a Management System is a big task, whether done by an individual or a team, they will need time to complete necessary Management System activities.

[10:30] Communicating the importance of an effective system and conforming to its requirements – Everyone looks up to Senior Management in regard to what their priorities are. It’s up to them to effectively communicate the importance of the Management System, it’s processes, their role in relation to the Management System and how to confirm with it’s requirements.

Key points to get across:

  • How this system makes your workplace a better place.
  • How it contributes to success of the organisation – I.e. happier customers, safer working conditions, ect
  • How it can make their daily routine more fulfilling – i.e. having a complete picture of their place in the business, how they contribute to its success.
  • What could nonconformity bring if people choose to step outside a management system? – I.e. With ISO 45001, nonconformance could risk someone getting injured.

[13:50] Engaging/directing/supporting persons to contribute to effectiveness of the system – Team managers should be harnessing the people at all levels to be able to fulfil the requirements of the Management System.

They should do that by providing clear expectations, which can be done via so communications and objective setting.

[14:30] Promoting improvement – Continual Improvement is absolutely key to every management system.

When something does go wrong, senior management must provide the resources for actively asking why things may have underperformed, so you can get to the cause of why it’s underperforming and put it right.

It’s also an opportunity to highlight when things have improved and celebrate those that contributed to that success.

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[17:40] Supporting other management to demonstrate leadership in their areas – Leadership drives top to bottom. Everybody can have a role in leadership.

Roles and responsibilities are assigned by senior management, and this offers the opportunity for individuals to provide their own leadership in their specific areas.  

[18:15] 5.2 Policy – The definition of Policy in ISO Standards is:

The overall intentions and direction of the organisation, expressed by senior management.  A policy exists to govern the behaviour of an organisation and its employees in order to provide the best outcomes.  It also provides the basis for the establishment of objectives.  It does not explain how the policy is to be delivered through individual tasks.  This may not be a detail for top management.

What’s the requirement?:

Top management must ensure its appropriate to the purpose and context of the organization and supports its strategic direction

It’s not simply just a piece of paper to sign once a year.

[19:25] 5.3 Organizational roles, responsibilities and authorities – What does the Standard say:

 ‘Top management shall ensure that responsibilities and authorities for relevant roles are assigned, communicated and understood within the organization’

What does this actually mean?:

  • Ensuring the Management system conforms to your ISO Standard(s)
  • Ensuring processes deliver desired results
  • Performance reporting including opportunities for improvement
  • Promotion of customer focus
  • Ensuring integrity of the management system through change and continual improvement

[21:30] Leadership in practice – Ian recounts an experience where senior management did regular safety checks in an organisation he worked with previously.

Senior Management took an hour out each month to do a floor walk and actually talk to those on the ground floor to ask them about risk, equipment and just generally get a feel for how everything really worked.

In turn, they were challenged by their staff on safe working systems and this proper conversation led to better understanding on both parts. The staff got to see their Senior Management genuinely care about their work and well-being, and Senior Management got much needed insight into the actual day-to-day activities and see first hand where improvements could be made.

Those familiar with ISO 45001 will know that worker participation is a requirement of the Standard, but there’s no reason why you can’t apply this to other Standards.

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