Why Does The Compliance Department Get Treated Like An Overhead?

Posted by Kirsten Ross

Some of the best performing management systems we have seen is where the compliance, quality or health and safety manager is given responsibility, and authority to make changes. All too often though, this is not the case and the compliance department is treated like an overhead to the organisation. 

In this video, we had a chat to Andrew Thornhill from IRM Systems in Melbourne to figure out how you can change top managements perception of the compliance team. 

Andrew is an auditor, an HSEQ consultant and a qualified trainer of auditors. He is also an approved Mango partner. 


Compliance Conversations is a new series where we chat with some industry experts about the pitfalls and advantages of compliance and provide you with insights into your compliance journey. Subscribe to our blog to keep up to date!


How do you change senior management's approach to the compliance department?


"The language we use and the way we frame what we're doing as the compliance manager or the quality manager is really important. Often the focus early on is getting a certificate on the wall. That's perhaps the perception management and operational staff maintain in their head about what the compliance team is doing.

So the compliance managers need to be active in transitioning that focus. Yes, the initial focus was conforming to the standard, but you also have to educate them on why you have the systems in place. If you've got a safety system, the aim is to provide a safe workplace. If you've got a quality system, the aim is to meet customer needs. The top managements perspective is not going to change without you stepping up and telling them why you do what you do. 

I have seen compliance managers be their own worst enemy. I was working with one recently who was explaining to a group of operators that were saying "why have we got to do this?" And the answer was, "because our auditors expect it", which is not motivating for the operators". 


"Get in the ear of the leaders and present the compliance department as a team that's adding value to the business. Transition from the perception that you're a cost to the company, into the perceived profit-centre. You can do that by showing how you're saving money, reducing incident rates and improving quality statistics".


"One of the things I find annoying is that the compliance department quite often sits under another department, meaning their visibility is really lost down the bottom. They need to be brought up and be given their own budget. A budget to train staff so that they can understand things like lean, six-sigma are. But with a budget comes responsibilities, so you've got to be able to measure the current state with the future state to show that you are contributing to less accidents and less product recalls".


Should the Compliance Department be brought up?

If you're in a department that sits under another department, your voice is lost way down the bottom, which is often the case for the compliance team. We asked Andrew what he thinks about the compliance team being added to the senior management committee...


"I think that's a great idea - Management teams sometimes struggle to understand what quality actually is and what the quality manager actually does. I'd see all too often when we work with our clients compliance officer, they get a seat at that table for about two minutes a year when they rush through a management review.

But they're not genuinely at that table, they are there to talk about if any incidents occurred. This is why, every time ISO revises the standard, they point toward increasing top management accountabilities for the compliance team

I can't put my exact finger on it, but I think there's a psychological thing where if we're going to management to say, "spend $1 to make $1" they're happy with that. If we're going to management to say "spend $1 to save $1" there's less commitment to avoiding a loss - but that can add up to decent sums of money"



  1. Educate the CEO and workforce on the importance of compliance 
  2. Have a seat on the table of senior management
  3. Be deliberate with the language you use with the workforce


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Want more of an insight into compliance in the workplace? Check out our other episodes here. 

Tags: Compliance, Compliance Conversations