The ISO 9001 standard is peppered with the term “top management.” In addition to the various clauses mentioning its responsibilities, there is a specific item discussing expectations for its engagement with critical aspects of the quality management system. This item, the fifth standard regarding leadership, encompasses a series of activities that upper management needs in order to show authority and commitment with the management system.

Yet what is top management after all? What are its actual responsibilities within a company? What is a management review? Below I answer these and other questions about this very fundamental topic when we’re talking about quality management systems.

What is top management?

According to NBR ISO 9000:2015 on quality management – Terms and definitions, Top Management “is a person or group of people who directs and controls an organization at the highest level.” It is also states that “Top management has the power to delegate authority and provide resources within the organization.”

This means that top management is who holds authority, resources and decision-making power regarding changes at the company. In addition to leadership, it should also show a commitment with respect to the quality management system.

The standard is recognized as containing no obligations regarding which position(s) must undertake this role. Nevertheless, it is important that this person or this group be aware of its responsibilities and demonstrate knowledge, engagement and active participation throughout the process involving the management system.

What are the responsibilities of top management?

Top management is responsible for establishing policies, guidelines and strategic objectives, as well as for providing leadership and direction for quality management within the organization. It should also establish those responsible and hold them accountable for a wide variety of management system processes.

Below I’ve listed top management’s responsibilities as they are described in ISO 9001:2015:

  • Take accountability for the effectiveness of the quality management system;
  • Ensure that the quality policy and quality objectives are established for the quality management system and are compatible with the context and strategic direction of the organization;
  • Ensure the integration of the quality management system requirements into the organization’s business processes;
  • Promote the use of the process approach and risk-based thinking;
  • Ensure that the resources needed for the Quality Management System are available;
  • Communicate the importance of effective quality management and of conforming to the quality management system requirements;
  • Ensure that the quality management system achieves its intended results;
  • Engage, direct and support persons to contribute to the effectiveness of the quality management system;
  • Promote improvement;
  • Support other relevant management roles to demonstrate their leadership as it applies to their areas of responsibility;
  • Demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to customer focus;
  • Ensure that the responsibilities and authorities for relevant roles are assigned, communicated and understood within the organization.
  • Perform management review of the organization’s quality management system;
  • Establish, implement and maintain a quality policy;
  • Ensure that the responsibilities and authorities for relevant roles are assigned, communicated and understood within the organization.

The details of each of these responsibilities can be found right in the standards. However, this list shows how important and vital this role is within an organization. The last item furthermore underscores that in addition to preparing the company to face every challenge, top management also helps teams to perform their roles. Everyone at the company must therefore be involved and willing to make things happen. Leaders should show employees that leadership is something that applies to every area at all times, and that each role has a direct impact on the quality of services and/or products produced by the organization.

What is a management review?

One of the responsibilities mentioned above is management review of the organization’s quality management system, which immediately brings to mind the expression of “management review.” Item 9.3 of the ISO 9001:2015 standard explains all of the characteristics that this review should contain. According to the standard’s terms: “Top Management shall review the organization’s quality management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy, effectiveness, and alignment with the strategic direction of the organization.”

In other words, after a Management System is implemented, Top Management should monitor the performance of results obtained, in addition to verifying whether the requirements established were fulfilled and which improvements can add value.  This review assesses whether the indicators defined are actually showing the system’s efficacy. In addition, it is crucial to verify compliance with the requirements of customers and other stakeholders.

How to improve your company’s quality management system

Final considerations

The importance of top management within organizations could be seen, in a summarized manner. Although the party responsible for top management has the authority to delegate activities, this party must be an active participant in the management system as well as in its maintenance.

The 2015 version of ISO 9001 states a concept of shared leadership, making it so that everyone understands their own importance within the management system. Top management, along with all of the company’s leaders, should know, participate in and, most importantly, encourage quality so that a culture of quality is established. Leadership is indispensable so that the QMS fulfills the organization’s strategic goals, therefore increasing customer satisfaction.

It is not an easy task, but those responsible for this role will certainly spread this effort to achieve successful results for the company, establishing and guaranteeing a management system that interacts with the strategic decisions of the business.

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Camilla Christino


Camilla Christino

Camilla Christino é Analista de Produto e Mercado da SoftExpert, formou-se em Engenharia de Alimentos no Instituto Mauá de Tecnologia. Detém sólida experiência na área de qualidade em indústrias de alimentos com foco em acompanhamento e adequações de processos de auditorias interna e externa,documentação do sistema de gestão da qualidade (ISO 9001, FSSC 22000, ISO/IEC 17025), Controle da Qualidade, Assuntos Regulatórios, BPF, APPCC e Food Chemical Codex (FCC). Ela também é certificada como auditora líder na norma ISO 9001:2015.

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