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Why Leadership Is A Vital Component Of A Management System

Although there are a lot of different definitions of leadership, there is a common thread that runs through many of them: the notion that leadership involves influencing others to follow a particular direction or aim for a particular goal.

A core but often misunderstood clause of the main ISO standards is the area of ‘Leadership’. This is a term which means different things to different people, but what does it mean in terms of management systems?

Although there are a lot of different definitions of leadership, there is a common thread that runs through many of them: the notion that leadership involves influencing others to follow a particular direction or aim for a particular goal.

This really the thread that runs through ISO - leadership is about tackling the important or core issues that face the organisation, which will usually fall into one of three categories:

  1. Strategic issues: the ‘ends’ or results the organisation seeks. In what direction should we go in a changing environment, correctly identifying opportunities and avoiding threats?

  2. Task issues: the ‘means’ of achieving the organisation's desired results. How can these tasks best be performed? Is there a tension between ends and means?

  3. The people or maintenance problem. Leadership is largely about the relationship between leaders and followers. Therefore a central task for leaders is to build and maintain a solid relationship with others. How can a leader maintain the morale, cohesion and commitment of individuals while pursuing the organisation’s aims?

Therefore Top Management (as ISO standards label senior management within an organisation) must ensure that the requirements of the management system, including the policies and objectives, are consistent with the strategic context and direction of the organisation, and that the policies and objectives are established whilst ensuring that the human and financial resources needed for implementing the management system are available.

The standards insists that Top Management should take a ‘hands-on’ approach to the management system which will be audited during interviews and whilst recording compliance to other requirements e.g. determining organisational context, policies, objectives, management review minutes, provision of resources etc.

This process view of leadership is designed to look at how leadership tackles the ‘ends’ and ‘means’ core problems which requires some knowledge of the wider environment and an understanding of how it is likely to affect the organisation.

To exercise leadership in these areas, Top Management must be prepared to keep in touch with and understand these wider events. Being a successful leader depends not just on what a person does within a group, as is suggested by ‘style’ theories of leadership, but also on what that person does outside the group. Effective networking and being a good ambassador are important leadership skills; they help the leader to understand the threats and opportunities that may face an organisation and to mobilise resources and support.

It’s against this backdrop that management system auditors will want to determine the following issues amongst the organisation’s Top Management:

  • How have policies and objectives been established?

  • Do they align with the strategic direction and the organisational context?

  • How are policies and objectives communicated within the organisation?

  • Can you demonstrate how policies are understood and applied?

  • How are the requirements of the Management System integrated into the business processes?

  • How is awareness of the process approach promoted?

  • How are resources determined?

  • How do you communicate the importance of effective Management System management, and conforming to Management System requirements?

  • How do you ensure that the Management System achieves its intended results?

  • How do you engage, direct and support people who contribute to the effectiveness of the Management System?

  • How is continual improvement promoted?

  • How are other relevant management roles supported to demonstrate leadership in their areas of responsibility?

The principal is fairly simple: without solid management commitment, you will not have a successful management system. This is not a commitment in words, it is the continuous and active demonstration to everyone in the organisation that the need to meet customers’ expectations is vital.

Article originated in The Ideas Distillery blog

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