Responsibility and Authority

In my humble opinion this is one of the most important clauses in ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems because to affect improvements staff must have the authority to make changes and clearly understand what they are responsible for. I have to go one step further and say that staff then need to held accountable for the results. If not, they will quickly learn that, in reality, they can do what they want and get away with it.

5 Management Responsibility

5.5 Responsibility, Authority and Communication

5.5.1 Responsibility and Authority

What does ISO 9001 Say?

ISO 9001 says so little in this clause but it means sooooooo much.

Top management shall ensure that responsibilities and authorities are defined and communicated within the organization. 


Having the best quality policy in the universe and really well defined quality objectives will change nothing if your organisation does not assign staff with the responsibility and authority to achieve them and communicate this to them. This cascades from the top of the organisation down through all levels.


Let’s break it down.

Top management shall ensure that responsibilities and authorities are defined . . . 

Responsibility is an area in which one is entitled to act on one’s own accord, the duty to perform certain tasks within an organisation.

Authority is the right to make certain decisions and take actions. It might be, for example, the right to direct and coordinate the actions of others or the right to stop a production line if poor quality product is being made.

It is senior management’s job to ensure that work is assigned to specific individuals or positions. If not, unpleasant tasks will tend to be left undone. Conversely, some tasks may be duplicated because it was assumed by several people that they were not being done.

. . . and communicated within the organization

Obviously one needs to communicate the responsibilities and authorities of staff to them and in doing so ensure that there is no doubt about what they will be held accountable for. This is important for the following reasons:

  • To ensure tasks are completed and without duplication of effort.
  • To avoid conflict.
  • To show what decisions can be made by who.
  • To indicate from whom staff will receive instructions and who they are accountable to.
  • To indicate who can resolve problems.

How is this Demonstrated?

An organisation can demonstrate that they meet the requirements of this clause through:

  • An organisation chart – describes the reporting structure and hence levels of authority.
  • Job descriptions – describe the role or a position such as the General Manager or Supervisor.
  • Functional descriptions –  describe the role of a group/department/function.
  • In process descriptions and flow charts – swimlanes can be used to allocate responsibilities to a function or position.
  • Stating who is responsible for tasks within procedures and who has overall responsibility for implementing the procedure.

If your organisation undertakes projects as opposed to running a production line or providing a consistent service, then you will need to define project responsibilities and authorities even though they are temporary because they are specific to a project. This can be done through project organisation charts and project job descriptions such as Project Manager, Project Engineer, Project Quality Manager, etc.

All or any of the above may be used. In a small business it may be enough to rely on procedures to communicate who is responsible and accountable for what. In a large or complex organisation all of the above may be needed.

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