31. Jul 2015

ISO 9001 Revision explained in simple terms


The FDIS (Final Draft International Standards) of the ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 Revision have appeared! They are obtainable at the Austrian Standards Institute (ISO/FDIS 9001:2015ISO/FDIS 14001:2015). This means that the two standardization projects continue to run as scheduled!

In a series of technical lectures, Quality Austria provides information on the revision of ISO 9001:2015. Each month, a key concept of the revision will be explained more profoundly. This month, Friedrich Smida, MA, explains the requirements relating to the topic of competence and the way to implement them.

Knowledge in ISO 9001 - requirements relating to the topic of competence

Friedrich Smida, MA


An essential requirement of ISO 9001:2015 is that it is necessary to determine the competence of the persons carrying out activities that influence the organization’s quality performance. This primarily concerns the persons that are involved in product or service realization or in the design of products and services or are in direct customer contact.

Basically this requirement of the ISO Revision is not new. Within the organizations, the competence requirements placed on employees were often equated to qualification requirements. These requirements were laid down in job descriptions, role descriptions or profiles of requirements. However, there is a big difference between qualification and competence. This difference will be explained in the following deliberations.

According to the definition of the European Commission (2008), a qualification is ‘a formal outcome of an assessment and validation process which is obtained when a competent body determines that an individual has achieved learning outcomes to a given standard’. A qualification is achieved by means of training and further training. It is made up of a set of knowledge and skills used to describe and allocate the qualification.

The question as to whether an individual is enabled to act in a self-organized and creative manner by the existing qualification can hardly be answered by this individual’s undergoing an examination. Qualifications can be reviewed by having a look at control parameters and can be improved by measures, such as training. Thus knowledge, skills and qualifications are no competencies even though there are no competencies without knowledge, skills and capabilities and qualifications.

In everyday business environment, we are not primarily interested in the qualifications required for the different positions. We are interested in the skills and capabilities of acting in a creative and self-organized manner in unexpected, open and sometimes chaotic situations. ISO 9001:2015 defines competence as “ability to use knowledge and skills to achieve intended results.” Competence cannot be reviewed directly. It can only be identified in retrospect by having a look at the way dispositions are realized, the present way of acting and performance.


Excursion relating to the topic of competencies

If we want to classify competencies and if we define competence as the “ability to act”, we can ask the following question: “Towards whom do I actually act?” This leads to the following possibilities:

  • You can act towards yourself (in personal terms)
  • You can act towards others (in social terms)
  • You can act towards states of affairs (process something - technically or methodologically)


When you act, you can be more active or less active.

In this respect, all the scientists that deal with competence and focus on having a look at the way of acting fundamentally largely agree upon the competencies (competence classes) stated below:

Personal competence (acting in a reflective and self-organized manner, i.e. estimating oneself, productive attitude helping to develop values, motives and self-images, evolving motivation and resolutions)

Technical / methodological competence (acting in a self-organized manner in order to creatively solve problems by means of technical and instrumental knowledge, skills and capabilities of solving problems creatively, assigning knowledge to the sense and assessing it accordingly, using methods and developing them further)

Social / communication competence (creatively handling others and collaborating with them, behaving in a group and relation focused manner and developing new tasks and goals)

Activity and implementation competence (acting actively and holistically in a self-organized manner and aligning this way of acting to translating goals and projects into practice within companies, namely for oneself or for others and with others within a team; this includes the capability of integrating one’s own emotions, motivations, skills and experiences as well as all the other competencies and successfully implementing actions)

John Erpenbeck defines the stated competencies as so-called key competencies. Single competencies or sub-competencies can be allocated to the competencies as “derived competencies” or “cross-sectional competencies”.


Establishing and assessing competencies

No matter what the size of an organization is, it will, for any organization, be necessary to use persons that have the adequate competencies for the activities to be carried out. In this respect, compromises will be made quite often. This will occur less frequently for the activities that seem to be simpler than for the activities that are more complex (e.g. managerial tasks). It makes sense to define the competencies required for the position to be filled (what does the position need?) and to assess the existing competencies of the chosen person.


The desired profile for a position will be defined by the leader or manager. Possibly the superior will also consider the strategy. The actual profile will be established by (a team or the superior) making an estimate. What is meant by the individual keywords of the requirement should be defined adequately in order to avoid possible problems with understanding.

Fig.1: Profile of requirements for an employee

Differences at the estimate (target-performance comparison) can lead to measures (trainings). The training measures will often be laid down in a training plan. Effectiveness of training measures can be reviewed by using different methods, e.g. by the superior making an estimate, by making structured interviews with the employees, by observing the behaviour or by making competence tests. The result, for its part, will lead up to a matrix assigned to the employee.



  • Erpenbeck, J./Rosenstiel von, L. (Hrsg.) (2007): Handbuch Kompetenzmessung. Erkennen verstehen und bewerten von Kompetenzen in der betrieblichen pädagogischen und psychologischen Praxis. 2. überarbeitete und erweiterte Auflage, Schäffer-Poeschel Verlag, Stuttgart.
  • Rosenstiel v., L. (2007): Grundlagen der Organisationspsychologie. 6. Auflage, Schäffer-Pöschel Verlag, Stuttgart.
  • Scholl, W., (2007): Grundkonzepte der Organisation. In: Schuler, H. [Hrsg.] (2007): Lehrbuch Organisationspsychologie. 4. vollständig überarbeitete und erweiterte Auflage, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern.
  • Schuler, H. [Hrsg.] (2007): Lehrbuch Organisationspsychologie. 4. vollständig überarbeitete und erweiterte Auflage, Verlag Hans Huber, Bern.


Friedrich Smida, BA MA
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