[This series of articles tries to emphasize the benefits of ISO 9001, and how to yield results from each major clause of the standard.]


Clause 5 of ISO 9001:2015 is called “Leadership,” and is a tricky one if you are concerned about implementing this solely with a view of being audited. This is because despite there being lots of words in clause 5, there are actually very few tangible requirements that can be audited. To glean real benefits from the Clause, however, we have to forget all about being audited to it, and just focus on the intent.

Clause 5.1.1

The first sub-clause is called “Leadership & Commitment,” and begins with a (sub-sub?) clause 5.1.1. This presents a bulleted list of what appear to be requirements, but which would be very hard to prove or disprove and therefore become less mandatory. In short, you can weasel out of any of them if you wanted to.

Assuming for the purposes of this article that you don’t want to weasel, the bullets become an excellent training agenda for your company’s top management. The intent here is to ensure that top management is involved at the earlier stages of QMS development, so they don’t get blindsided later. When that happens, the boss can cut the legs out from under the QMS before it has even launched.  To gain benefits from this sub-clause, however, it’s imperative you resist the urge to bludgeon top management with your own personal whims or wants, and stick to the script. For example, one of the bullets says that top management must provide resources, but if you use that to justify a demand for a new laptop or standing desk, you’re pushing your luck.

Clause 5.1.2

The next sub-clause is called “Customer Focus” and is, again, a great thing to use as a training topic for top management. Keep in mind, it’s unlikely any company is violating anything in this clause, so it’s almost a freebie. (What would it look like if a company was not focused on its customer in some way?)

While not explicitly referenced in the standard, an even better way to yield huge benefits from ISO 9001 is to flip the script a bit, and treat this as referring to internal customers. Internal customers are the recipient processes of each prior process: for example, receiving inspection’s internal customer might be the storage warehouse; the warehouse’s internal customer might be manufacturing; and so on.

Adopting an internal customer point of view is often underrated and overlooked: I daresay it belongs alongside the process approach as one of the most important quality management methods. It helps ensure that each process generates nearly perfect outputs, and that ensures the company ships nearly perfect product. Each process should be concerned primarily with satisfying the direct, internal recipient of their work. Then, the later clauses on customer satisfaction can be utilized similarly, to rank how well each process is doing in satisfying their internal customers.

Ironically, worrying about the external customer is actually a distraction! It’s sort of a twist on the airline safety spiel, “please put on your own mask before helping others.” If you are not ensuring your internal processes and WIP (work in process) is excellent, then the risk of having defective product at final inspection or, worse, after delivery, goes up.

Clause 5.2

The next sub-clause is called “Policy,” and deals with the need to develop and implement a Quality Policy. The benefits of a Quality Policy are debatable, but let’s assume for the purposes of this article that they exist. If so, the policy is a simple means to communicate a universal, company-wide philosophy on quality, one which can be understood by everyone and then interpreted based on each person’s role and responsibilities.

ISO 9001 dictates some literal language you must include in the policy, but then gives some flexibility. A truly customized, meaningful and easy-to-understand policy is recommended, so that employees are not confused with a lot of meaningless business-speak or sloganeering. It’s tricky to pull off, but your final policy should be warm, charming and insightful. It should mean something.

The benefit of an excellent Quality Policy is that it becomes a tool any employee can use whenever they are stuck on a problem or have a difficult decision to make; they should be able to run the policy through their heads and find it nudges them in the right direction. “Should I report this potential process failure?” A well written Quality Policy will probably give them instant advice on the matter.

Clause 5.3 

This sub-clause is called Organizational Roles Responsibilities and Authorities,” and provides another bulleted list that appears similar to that of 5.1.1. Here, however, the intent is to have you clearly come up with definitions of what each employee is supposed to do, and what their responsibilities are related to the QMS. The later clause on “Competence” will touch on this again, so the two clauses are often implemented simultaneously. If you develop position descriptions for training purposes, then you’ve likely satisfied much of what 5.3 is asking for, too. Likewise, if each individual procedure calls out roles and responsibilities, then that is another way to satisfy 5.3.

Previously, most of these requirements were put onto a single “Management Representative”; the 2015 version of ISO 9001 has removed the requirement for “one” person to do all of this, so you have more flexibility in assigning each bullet to one or more people as needed. But the list represents a minimum set of requirements you have to assign to someone.

A key benefit here is that you won’t be surprised with problems that arise when a company hands out responsibilities like candy, but restricts people’s authority to actually carry out those duties. A client of mine had assigned the role of internal audit manager/scheduler to one employee, but then failed to grant them any authority over the various VPs to ensure the audit schedule was adhered to; this resulted in audits being conducted months late (“when the VP said it was OK”) or, in some cases, never at all. So ensuring all employees have both the responsibility and authority to conduct their work is critical; otherwise, it’s pointless to even grant anyone responsibility at all.


Clause 5, when implemented properly, should result in the following tangible benefits for your company:

  1. If you use the list of requirements in 5.1.1 as a training agenda for top management, they will more easily be brought on board the QMS early in the implementation process, reducing any surprises later.
  2. Implementing a simple “customer focus” should help ensure customer satisfaction later; going beyond this to implement an “internal customer” approach is even better, and will yield tremendous improvements to processes, products and services, and allow you to reduce final inspections.
  3. A well-written and easily understood Quality Policy will help employees understand what they should do in any given moment, in order to continually satisfy quality overall.
  4. Well-defined responsibilities and authorities for all employees will ensure everyone can actually do the work that is expected of them, and that they fully understand those expectations.

Click here for the full series of articles on The Benefits of ISO 9001:2015.


About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.


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