A court leader needs to be able to manage court operations with consistency and predictability, by providing the guidance and policies for both day-to-day operations and long-term decisions. To do this, the court leader will need to develop and maintain an effective governance structure for the court.


One of the more challenging responsibilities of a court leader is developing and maintaining an effective governance structure for the court. The governance structure provides the framework for the court leader to manage court operations with consistency and predictability, by providing the guidance and policies for both day-to-day operations and long-term decisions. A well-developed and effective governance structure should include a set of rules and responsibilities that gives individuals and/or groups of individuals in supervisory/management roles the authority to make binding decisions regarding the organization’s policies, directions and strategies. In developing an effective structure, the court leader will need to ensure that the structure:

  • Upholds the principles of judicial independence, fiscal responsibility and procedural justice.
  • Encourages consistency, predictability and integrity in leadership actions.
  • Promotes a collaborative, strategic partnership between the presiding/administrative judge and court administrator.
  • Promotes participation and consensus building either directly or through representatives of the organization. (On a statewide level this is most often accomplished by a judicial council for state courts; in an urban trial court it may be achieved by a judicial executive committee; for courts with federal jurisdiction, generally by the Judicial Council of the United States, with implementation support provided by the United States Administrative Office of the Courts; for tribal courts, governance is generally determined by the tribal government.)
  • Adheres to the highest ethical standards of the justice system.
  • Fosters positive morale among court personnel.

Because there is wide variation in complexity and organizational structures among courts, developing and maintaining constructive governance mechanisms can be a daunting task for a court leader. Some states have multiple layers of courts, a variety of elected officials and short tenures for leadership judges and funding authorities at various levels. The court leader needs to be aware of and account for all of the complexity of their court when developing the governance structure. In addition, the court leader needs to ensure the structure adheres to ethical standards in all aspects of court operations.

Courts must be fair and impartial, and they must be perceived as such. The court leader’s role is to promote clearly articulated policies, procedures, responsibilities and decision making processes applicable to all aspects of court operations to foster transparency, accountability and open communication. The court leader must also work to cultivate and sustain a governance structure that promotes the principles of independence, for both the court and the individual judges deciding cases, even as they simultaneously work to advance relationships with others throughout the government and community.


Although the efforts of a court leader to promote and sustain an effective governance structure in the court will necessarily be dictated by the organizational and jurisdictional context in which he/she works, the court leader should demonstrate competency in the following areas:

  • Work with Judicial System Officials and Others to Uphold the Principles of Judicial Independence, Fiscal Responsibility and Procedural Justice — As addressed in other Competencies, 1 the court leader must demonstrate skills in developing and monitoring its policies, procedures and practices, as relevant, to ensure the court operates in a manner that is not only fair and impartial but is perceived as such. Further, operational practices should follow established and clearly articulated policies and procedures.
  • Promote Consistency, Predictability and Integrity in all Aspects of the Court’s Operation — Regardless of specific court function, the court leader should develop skills necessary to promote consistency, predictability and integrity in all aspects of the court’s operations, compliance with applicable canons of ethics and procedural fairness and promote the purposes and responsibilities for which courts have been established. 2* *
  • Encourage a Collaborative, Strategic Partnership Between Court Management Staff and Judicial Leadership — The ideal partnership between court management and judicial leadership has long been characterized by the court “Executive Team” concept, which requires skill in nurturing and fostering clear roles, defined responsibilities, ongoing access to each other and a shared vision. The administrative judge clearly carries the command prerogative; the court leader is a strategic advisor — a colleague in top-level decision-making — often with additional prescribed management duties outlined in statute, rule, administrative order or custom. The majority of administrative judges also have limited tenure in their positions, often appointed by a supreme court, an executive or legislative body or elected by their colleagues. The court leader, therefore, serves as the link in the governance structure, working with a variety of leadership judges during his or her career.
  • Promote Participation and Consensus Building within the Organization — To sustain a court’s governance structure, the court leader should be able to share information constructively with all members of the court organization and to offer straight–forward performance feedback. The court leader should foster an atmosphere of open communication within the organization by making it clear to employees how decisions are made as well as their value to organization.  In doing this, the court leader should articulate each individual’s role in carrying out the court’s purposes and responsibilities as well as the policies and practices developed to fulfill them.
  • Foster Positive Morale and a Productive, Engaged Workforce — An effective governance structure provides the foundation for a productive workforce, with lines of authority, responsibilities, decision-making processes and related administrative practices that are clearly articulated and transparent. To build upon this structure, the court leader needs to demonstrate skills in fostering positive morale in the court and promoting organization-wide understanding of and respect for the role that each member of the workforce plays in carrying out the court’s purposes and responsibilities. 3 These skills should focus on promoting productivity, collegiality and positive motivation among the court workforce, inspiring excellent performance and valuing innovation.
  • Promote the Rule of Law and Judicial Independence — Maintaining the rule of law and judicial independence requires an infrastructure that provides for the impartial and timely resolution of disputes. The court is not an ancillary department of government but, rather, a co-equal branch of government whose functions cannot be dispensed when government resources are unduly limited. As such, the court leader must strive for competency in all of the areas needed to promote the stable operation of the court.
  • Promote Consistency, Predictability and Integrity in Management Roles and Responsibilities — *An effective governance structure provides the foundation for consistency, predictability and accountability in all aspects of the court’s operation. *Although functions and authority may vary, the court leader should work within the limits of his//her authority to promote consistency, predictability, timeliness and accountability in the work of the court they serve. Where these provisions are either inadequate or don’t exist, the court leader should identify policies and procedures that will remedy the situation.
  • Ensure Ethical Conduct — Recognizing the wide scope of potential ethical issues that can arise affecting the integrity of the court process and image of the court system, the court leader needs to develop the ability to identify and promptly address key problems. These may entail the conduct of court staff, attorneys, judges, as well as the integrity of the court process. The court leader should demonstrate competencies in understanding the ethical standards that apply to the court process and its participants (e.g., judges, attorney, court staff, jurors, witnesses and others). It is equally important that the court leader understand how and when to promptly address ethical violations.


  1. See in particular Ensuring Public Trust and Confidence, Managing Budget, Resources and Facilities and Managing, Developing and Motivating the Workforce.
  2. See Purposes and Responsibilities of the Court and, particularly, “Access to Justice.”
  3. Provide Link to Purposes and Responsibilities