Management system standards

Some of ISO’s most well-known standards are management system standards. They provide a model to follow when setting up and operating a management system. Like all ISO standards, they are the result of international, expert consensus. Therefore, by implementing a management system standard, organizations can benefit from global management experience and good practice.

These standards can be applied to any organisation, large or small, whatever its product or service and regardless of its sector of activity.

An effective management system has many benefits including:

Continual improvement

All ISO's management system standards are based on the principle of continual improvement. An organization or company assesses its current situation, fixes objectives and develops policy, implements actions to meet these objectives and then measures the results. With this information the effectiveness of the policy, and the actions taken to achieve it, can be continually reviewed and improved.


Audits are a vital part of ISO's management system approach as they enable the company or organization to check how far their achievements meet their objectives. External audits also play a role in showing conformity to the standard.

In order to help the auditing of these standards, particularly for companies implementing more than one management system standard, ISO has released ISO 19011:2011. This standard provides specific guidance on internal and external management system audits.

What is a management system?

A management system describes the set of procedures an organization needs to follow in order to meet its objectives.

In a small organization there may not be an official system, just ‘our way of doing things’. Often ‘our way of doing things’ is not written down, instead it is in the head of the staff. However, the larger the organization the more likely it is that there are written instructions about how things are done. This makes sure that nothing is left out and that everyone is clear about who needs to do what, when and how. When an organization systemizes how it does things, this is known as a management system.

What’s new?

Many companies use more than one management system standard. In order to make this easier, we have decided that all management system standards should have the same structure and contain many of the same terms and definitions. This will make it easier, less time consuming and cheaper to use the standards, as well as helping auditors.


Certification to management system standards is not a requirement. Organizations benefit from implementing these standards without having to be certified to them.

However, many organizations do decide to get certified to one or more of ISO’s management system standards. In order to do this they must contact an external certification body as ISO itself does not perform certification.

Read more about certification to management system standards.

Certification (third party conformity assessment) is not the only way to show conformity to management system standards. Alternatives include inviting the organization's customers to verify its implementation of the management system standard (second party assessment) or to self declare its conformity (first party assessment). Read more about conformity assessment.

ISO Survey - 2012

Every year ISO performs a survey of certifications to its management system standards. The latest edition shows a significant increase in certificates for ISO 27001 (information security) and ISO 22000 (food safety management) as well as for energy and environmental management.

Learn more about the survey and download the free survey results

Management system standards

ISO has a number of management system standards, each focusing on different issues affecting global business.
Some of the most well known can be found here. More information can be found by clicking on the following links.

Wind turbines

ISO 50001 - Energy management

green forest

ISO 14000 family - Environmental management

stuffed animals

ISO 9000 family - Quality management

Field of wheat

ISO 22000 - Food safety management

Keyboard with bomb sign in magnifying glass

ISO/IEC 27001 - Information security management

People at a music concert

ISO 20121 - Sustainable events management