Objective To explore the impact of the organisational quality systems on quality of care in Victorian health services. Methods During 2015 a total of 55 focus groups were conducted with more than 350 managers, clinical staff and board members in eight Victorian health services to explore the effectiveness of health service quality systems. A review of the quality and safety goals and strategies outlined in the strategic and operating plans of the participating health services was also undertaken. Results This paper focuses on the data related to the leadership role of health service boards in ensuring safe, high-quality care. The findings suggest that health service boards are not fully meeting their governance accountability to ensure consistently high-quality care. The data uncovered major clinical governance gaps between stated board and executive aspirations for quality and safety and the implementation of these expectations at point of care. These gaps were further compounded by quality system confusion, over-reliance on compliance, and inadequate staff engagement. Conclusion Based on the existing evidence we propose five specific actions boards can take to close the gaps, thereby supporting improved care for all consumers. What is known about this topic? Effective governance is essential for high-quality healthcare delivery. Boards are required to play an active role in their organisation’s pursuit of high quality care. What does this paper add? Recent government reports suggest that Australian health service boards are not fully meeting their governance requirements for high quality, safe care delivery, and our research pinpoints key governance gaps. What are the implications for practitioners? Based on our research findings we outline five evidence-based actions for boards to improve their governance of quality care delivery. These actions focus on an organisational strategy for high-quality care, with the chief executive officer held accountable for successful implementation, which is actively guided and monitored by the board.