Being a Quality Leader

Domain Knowledge

Having recently said farewell to a leader in our quality organization, I have been reflecting on quality leaders and what makes one great. As I often do, I look to standards, in this case the American Society of Quality (ASQ).

The Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE)leads and champions process improvement initiatives—that can have regional or global focus—in various service and industrial settings. A CMQ/OE facilitates and leads team efforts to establish and monitor customer/supplier relations,supports strategic planning and deployment initiatives, and helps develop measurement systems to determine organizational improvement.

American Society of Quality

The ASQ’s Certified Manager of Quality/Operation Excellence (CMQ/OE) body of knowledge‘s first section is on leadership. 

To be honest, the current body of knowledge (bok) is a hodge-podge collection of stuff that is sort of related but often misses a real thematic underpinning. The bok (and the exam) could use a healthy dose of structure when laying out the principles of roles and responsibilities, change management, leadership techniques and empowerment.

There are fundamental skills to being a leader:

  • Shape a vision that is exciting and challenging for your team (or division/unit/organization).
  • Translate that vision into a clear strategy about what actions to take, and what not to do.
  • Recruit, develop, and reward a team of great people to carry out the strategy.
  • Focus on measurable results.
  • Foster innovation and learning to sustain your team (or organization) and grow new leaders.
  • Lead yourself — know yourself, improve yourself, and manage the appropriate balance in your own life.

In order to do these things a leader needs to demonstrate skills in communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and skills motivating and leading teams (and self).

The best leaders know a lot about the domain in which they are leading, and part of what makes them successful in a management role is technical competence. A Quality leader needs to know quality as a domain AND the domain of the industry they are within.

Three domains necessary for a quality leader

In my industry it is just not enough to know quality (for now we’ll define that as the ASQ BoK) nor is it enough to know pharmaceuticals (with regulatory being a subdomain). It is not enough just to have leadership skills. It is critical to be able to operate in all three areas. 

To excel as a leader in practice, you also need a lot of expertise in a particular domain. 

As an example, take the skill of thinking critically in order to find the essence of a situation. To do that well, you must have specific, technical expertise. The critical information an engineer needs to design a purification system is different from the knowledge used to understand drug safety, and both of those differ in important ways from what is needed to negotiate a good business deal.

When you begin to look at any of the core skills that leaders have, it quickly becomes clear that domain-specific expertise is bound up in all of them. And the domains of expertise required may also be fairly specific. Even business is not really a single domain. Leadership in pharmaceuticals, transportation, and internet (for example) all require a lot of specific knowledge.

Similarly, with only leadership and technical, you are going to fumble. Quality brings a set of practices necessary for success. A domain filled with analytical and decision making capabilities that cross-over with leadership (critical thinking and problem-solving) but are deepened with that perspective. 

There are also other smaller domains, or flavors of domains. If I was building this model out more seriously I would have an interesting cluster of Health and Safety with Quality (the wider bucket of compliance even). I’m simplifying for this post.

Development of knowledge

To go a step further. These three domains are critical for any quality professional. What changes is the development of wisdom and the widening of scope. This is why tenure is important. People need to be able to settle down and develop the skills they need to be successful in all three domains. 

Good quality leaders recognize all this and look to build their organizations to reflect the growth of technical, quality and leadership domain. 

10 thoughts on “Being a Quality Leader

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