Purpose: This research seeks to identify the specific leadership competencies required for implementing Total Quality Management (TQM); to examine the influence of leadership competencies for implementing individual TQM principles; and to examine the relationship of the TQM implementation principles with TQM outcomes among the Thai manufacturing companies with different levels of leadership competencies. Design/methodology/approach: Data have been collected from 265 ISO 9000-certified companies in the Thai manufacturing industry to examine the validity and reliability of the leadership competencies construct; nine TQM implementation constructs (top management commitment, supplier quality management, continuous improvement, product innovation, benchmarking, employee involvement, reward and recognition, education and training, and customer focus); and one outcome construct (product quality). The findings are cross-validated using exploratory factor analysis (EFA). Step-wise regression methods have been used to identify the influence of leadership competencies for implementing TQM principles. Findings: This research confirms the necessity for top management to perform as leaders for implementing TQM. Companies with high leadership competencies execute each of the nine TQM principles more effectively and are able to produce higher quality products. This research also finds that the relationships of TQM implementation constructs and the outcome construct (product quality) are not same in the different contexts of leadership competencies. The predictors of product quality in the context of high leadership competencies are: customer focus; continuous improvement; employee involvement; and supplier quality management. The predictors of product quality in companies with low leadership competencies are top management commitment; customer focus; and product innovation. Research limitations/implications: The present study used only product quality as the outcome of TQM efforts, but the outcome of TQM is not limited only to product quality. TQM is also related to other organizational performance variables, namely - customer satisfaction, employee morale, delivery, productivity, cash flow, and sales growth. Future research should be extended by using other performance variables as the outcome of TQM. Originality/value: It is believed that this research reveals new insights about the manufacturing sector of Thailand. This research also has managerial and research implications for designing and formulating operations strategy for implementing TQM. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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