Objective The aims of the present study were to describe the views of senior clinical and executive staff employed in public sector residential aged care services (RACS) about the benefits and limitations of using quality indicators (QIs) for improving care, and to identify any barriers or enablers to implementing the QI program. Methods A cross-sectional qualitative study using semistructured interviews and direct observation of key informants involved in the QI program was performed across 20 public sector RACS in Victoria, Australia. Participants included senior clinical, executive and front-line staff at the RACS. The main outcome measures were perceived benefits and the enablers or barriers to the implementation of a QI program. Results Most senior clinical and executive staff respondents reported substantive benefits to using the QIs and the QI program. A limited number of staff believed that the QI program failed to improve the quality of care and that the resource requirements outweighed the benefits of the program, resulting in disaffected staff. Conclusions The QIs and QI program acted as a foundation for improving standards of care when used at the front line or point of care. Senior executive engagement in the QI program was vital to successful implementation. What is known about this topic? QIs measure the structures, processes or outcomes of care and identify issues that need further investigation or improvement. QIs are increasingly being adopted throughout the world. In Australia, the public sector RACS QIs project was implemented in 2006. It is yet to be formally evaluated. What does this paper add? Perceived benefits and limitations of the QI program were identified, together with barriers to successful implementation of the program and recommendations for future improvements. QI data were reported to improve quality culture and assist with identifying clinical areas for improvement. However, the QI program was associated with significantly increased workload and some stakeholders questioned its usefulness. The QI program studied could be improved through better access to education and training for those responsible for data collection and results dissemination to appropriate training and resources; and revision of the QI definitions and reporting methods. What are the implications for clinicians? QI data are useful for identifying opportunities for quality improvement. Despite data limitations, public sector RACS can use data for internal benchmarking, staff education and targeting of quality improvement interventions. At the policy level, revising the QI definitions and simplifying data collection and reporting would improve and strengthen the program. At the clinician and executive level, there is also a strong preference for QI data that allow comparison and benchmarking between facilities.