Can Leadership be Audited?

In the management system standards such as ISO31000, ISO9001, ISO45001, ISO14001, and ISO27001 there is a clause on Leadership. The wording differs slightly between standards but essentially it requires organizational leadership to be accountable for the:

  • Effectiveness of the system
  • Integration into business processes

Ok, but we don’t expect a company’s top management to be developing and implementing the system themselves (unless it is a very small company). So how do they achieve this?

Management can be delegated. Can Leadership?

This might sound confusing, but delegating responsibility and accountability and authority can be a sign of good leadership, if there is also a requirement for the delegate to report back to and keep top management informed.

Ensuring someone else is running with it does not mean that top management doesn’t need or want to know if things are under control.

Leadership Models

Management structures vary from business to business. The organisation will need to decide “where the buck stops” to determine where leadership accountability ultimately lies.

But, can it be audited? Rare is the auditor game enough to comment negatively on a company’s top management, yet I have seen the full range from poor to exceptional leadership when it comes to the development and implementation of management systems in organisations.

The thing about an audit is, it requires an absence of a specific requirement for it to be a non-conformance. Gut-feel about poor involvement or lack of interest from directors or business owners is not enough for an audit finding.

The Solution

Either way, if top management is not interested, think of it from their point of view. They are busy people, worried about winning the next job, meeting targets, and keeping the business operating. It’s probably not a lack of interest in risk, quality, or safety; more that they don’t see the relative significance.

If you are tasked with developing or implementing an ISO management system, top management trusts you to deliver. Any reporting you prepare needs to quickly and succinctly provide insight to management about what’s under control and what needs their attention.

The answer for leadership conformance comes back to insightful system reporting, not an audit.