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The Functions of Leadership within ISO Management Systems

27 October 2016
The theme of this article is to look at functional leadership theory, which is particularly useful for addressing specific leader behaviours that are expected to contribute to organizational or unit effectiveness. 

In September, Dr Margaret Rooney published a joint article with Mr Andrew Holt on the blog about organizational leadership. In this article the CQI competency framework was proposed as something that could allow leaders to develop a strong governance, proper assurance and a culture of improvement within an organization. The article also explored the attributes of leadership, and provided an insight into how organizational leadership can be assessed within an ISO management system.
The theme of this article is to look at functional leadership theory, which is particularly useful for addressing specific leader behaviours that are expected to contribute to organizational or unit effectiveness. This turns on its head, the idea that leaders can be identified through individual characteristics, or that people are inherently predisposed to become leaders, as with attribute/trait theory.

For leaders that struggle to relate to these concepts, greater emphasis is needed on how specific tasks are being led and the functional roles that leaders need to perform. We can be the first to really incorporate these ideas into ISO management systems.  

Functional leadership

Functional leadership is all about achieving organizational and unit effectiveness. At its core, the theory proposed by Adair (1973) states:
“That the roles and duties undertaken by leaders can be understood if we understand how they are expected to achieve success, as opposed to simply the behaviours they exhibit.”
This means that leadership is seen as something that evolves in response to an ISO management system, rather than the mix of behaviours that leaders adopt to make themselves appear effective.
According to Adair, there are 8 key functions for which team leaders are responsible.

Let’s look at how they fit into an ISO management system:

Defining the task

The first role of a leader is to provide information about the organizations context, its risks and business opportunities to people designing or responsible for the management system. It is also important to:

  • Establish objectives for the organization, which must be compatible with the organizations strategic direction and context.
  • Define the SMART goals for each business objective.
  • Define any actions that avoid additional uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
  • Give specific direction to help leaders control each objective
  • Define specific corporate policies that underpin the management system


Resources required for the implementation of a management system must be made available within the organization by top management. The function of leaders in this regard is to make these informed strategic decisions and to record the reasoning.

As a leader, it is important for you to ensure the following:

  • Check that you have provided the correct level of material, financial and human resources to enable change within the organization.
  • Monitor whether the resources you have provided are still adequate. There are times when objectives need to change or be scrapped, when they are no longer feasible.
  • Check that these changes are understood by employees, and to ensure that there is a record of legitimate deviation.
  • Look at alternative options and contingency planning are common functions performed by to help add value on particular objectives.
  • Adopt a programme of planned improvements in association with specific objectives (This is a desirable approach for leaders that want a degree of continual improvement, whom are uncertain over which objectives are still viable).

Briefing the Team

When the management system is fully implemented, the leadership function shifts to assessing how well a duty is performed, and to identify instances of negligence, ignorance or apathy.  

This means Leaders should:

  • Ensure that the responsibilities and authorities for relevant roles are assigned, communicated, and understood within the organization. Some individuals are required to report to leaders on the performance of the system, opportunities for improvement, and the need for change or innovation. 
  • Change or replace existing employee contracts to include these additional roles  
  • Negotiate and agree these contractual obligations with employees  

Individuals are responsible for operational control and may require additional training, therefore - it is the function of leaders to prevent untrained individuals from undertaking tasks for which they are not competent. 

Leaders need to also:

  • Be aware of personal and interpersonal issues that could affect the ability of employees to undertake their roles. 
  • Choose individuals for specific tasks, so that this work can be optimized, coordinated and controlled in accordance with individuals’ strengths. 
  • Making individuals aware of their responsibility, additional emphasis should be placed on systemic principles such as risk-based thinking that interact directly with an individuals’ responsibility. When the management system is fully implemented, the leadership function shifts to assessing how well a duty is performed, and to identify instances of negligence, ignorance or apathy. 
  • Be prepared to terminate, change, and create new employment contracts - until this meets your own level of expectation.

There are many more leadership functions contribute towards the right team climate and can create a positive cultural ethos, which becomes increasingly important as management systems evolve and mature.

Control what Happens

Adair (1973) linked organizational control to operational efficiency, however within ISO management systems; it is the effect of controlled operations that is more important.  This means that the function of leaders is to react to critical incidents and organizational crises when they occur.

Leaders should put in place:

  • Reporting mechanisms that make them aware of emergent issues
  • Make interventions at different management levels, in order to compensate for what are called the forces of selective perception in managers, and to synchronise management activity. Seek a level of control over corrective and preventative action. This is usually done by evaluating management decisions during the management review, rather than direct involvement in their formulation (which can require a higher level of technical competency).

Enable organizational development by controlling growth, restricting resources and providing strategic direction.

Evaluating Results

Management Review is the process by which leaders evaluate results (success) within the ISO management systems.

Therefore it is vital that leaders:

  • Ensure that the management review collects enough information
  • A review is conducted on a regular basis, because failure to maintain and retrieve relevant information during a management review may be seen as a loss of organizational knowledge. Evaluate success against objectives, monitor performance results, review audit report findings, review corrective or preventative action, and to convey this information to any member of staff that requires this information.
  • Evaluating risk, using a risk-based thinking approach, is a key function of leaders, and the management review provides a forum for change in this respect.

This all needs to be demonstrated (meeting minutes, corrective action plans, etc.).    

Motivating Individuals

The key behind motivating individuals is to get them to adopt behaviours that are desirable to the management system. Studies have found that transformational leadership styles are capable of inspiring motivation.

Leaders need to ensure:

  • The quality management system achieves its intended outcomes outputs by engaging, directing, and supporting persons to contribute to the effectiveness of the quality management system and promoting improvement.
  • They use external motivators such as rewards and incentives as well as eliciting internal motivators on the part of each employee.

Organising People

Organizational roles and responsibilities can be established through something as simple as a hierarchy chart; however it is the interaction between these individuals that is controlled by an ISO management system.

Leaders are required to:

  • Introduce work instructions (orders) a common mechanisms for controlling a production line
  • Determine customer requirements, for controlling externally provided products and services
  • Control non-conforming products; and there is usually a need for monitoring, calibration, and accordingly some sort of analysis.  

Leaders need to check that these requirements are effectively implemented. One way that they can do this is to ensure that each of these requirements is audited internally. They need to check that internal auditing is appropriately conducted and that this is done on an appropriate frequency.

Setting a Good Example

Top management have ultimate accountability for a management system. Junior members of staff may copy and imitate poor behaviour by top management, so it is important that they do not do anything to undermine the management system, such as destroying and altering records.  Conversely there are many instances where good behaviour is reinforced and adopted by followers.


The Leadership Functions proposed by Adair (1973) fit quite neatly into ISO management systems. The reason that this works so well, is that the clause-based system of ISO provides very definitively the action-centered requirements for leaders. Adair forces us to look at these core functions before we make our mind-up on a particular leadership style.