In 1990, the National Association for Court Management (NACM) surveyed its members to evaluate the goals, priorities, and services of the association. What emerged from that survey was a clear desire from the field for national programs that were relevant to daily practice and reflective of the full range of court manager responsibilities. The ensuing effort produced a set of competencies, designed to provide guidance on court management skills and responsibilities that outlined specific knowledge, skills, and abilities required for effective performance and to serve as a guide for NACM educational programming and promoting the interests of our members.
Since that time, the field of court management has become increasingly professionalized and diverse. With increasing responsibilities, new demands of staff, and changes in the environment in which court managers work (e.g., political, economic, technological), NACM recognized a need to review the original competencies and to update them to take into account the multitude of changes that have occurred in the profession. The new Core™ system is intended to be forward-looking to encourage not only competencies for professionals working in court administration but also to promote excellence in the administration of justice.
What Are and Aren’t Essential Competencies?
Being a competent court leader means that an individual has a demonstrated capacity to carry out required responsibilities in a manner that is consistent with producing effective performance. The Core system is designed to help court leaders understand what it means to demonstrate capacity in all aspects of court management. Overall, the Core system is a comprehensive and detailed description of what individuals working in court administration need to know and be able to do. The Core system is not intended to be static indicators of performance but rather are dynamic and adaptable to different types and levels of courts, jurisdictions, and environmental context, while promoting the interests of our members.
Court leaders, managers, and their staff will find that the Core system is organized to reflect the types of knowledge and skills needed to be effective at all levels of court management. Recognizing that the Core system provides an opportunity to help both young professionals new to the field, as well as those looking to advance in the field and improve their overall performance, NACM’s approach provides a roadmap to the profession — from the foundational knowledge that every individual in court management should have to the more complex and advanced areas required to be an effective line-level manager and court leader.
As such, the Core system is organized into three modules: Principles, Practice, and Vision. Within each are competencies that an individual needs to be an effective staff member, manage, and court leader, whether in his or her current position or as he/she advances to positions of greater responsibility and authority:
Principles focus on the fundamental and enduring principles that every person working in the courts should be knowledgeable of and demonstrate competency in, regardless of the individual functions or tasks he or she performs for the court. The competencies within the Principles module are relevant at all experience levels — whether as a newly hired employee, a seasoned professional moving into the courts from other disciplines or agencies, or as a long-time member of the court community.
The Practice module defines the competencies that a court leader should have to effectively perform both the day-to-day and long-term functions of the position and enhance the professional standing of court management professionals. Although not every court leader will individually be responsible for performing each specific function, it is important that he or she understand why the function is important, critical skills needed to be effective, how to apply the skills to their specific roles in the court.
Finally, competencies in the Vision module detail what a court leader needs to be able to do to effectively develop and manage a strategic vision for the court. Court leaders must be able to identify and address emerging issues that have an impact on the administration of justice, and they must be able to navigate changing political and economic environments. To perform these functions, the court leader must demonstrate creativity, stamina, drive, conceptual and analytical skills and the ability to execute. These traits position the court leader to work with judicial officers and other system leaders as part of a leadership team, to assess and respond to trends and to promote overall court capacity.
This introduction provides an overview of key definitions used in the Core system and guidance on the application and use of the materials in each module.
Application and Use of the Core System
As noted earlier, the Core system is designed to provide a framework of the critical competencies needed to be an effective staff member, manager, or court leader regardless of the type of court in which a person works. The Core system can be used in many different ways:
For individual professional development
- By individuals within the judicial system to evaluate their own competence and promote the skills of a true court management professional
- By individuals to advance their competency levels to promote individual growth and development into a court manager or court leader positions
For staff development
- As an orientation tool for new staff members
- As a tool for identifying areas of deficiency or gaps in competence within the office as a whole
For personnel management
- As a basis for establishing job descriptions
- As a basis for performance measurement
For advancing the field of court administration and management
- As a guide for national training programs in court administration
- As a measure of how the profession is changing over time
Regardless of how the Core system is used, is has been structured to provide consistent information across all competencies. This consistent structure allows the reader to quickly define and review the indicators of competence and also to see how the competency is demonstrated in everyday work and in different types of courts/court functions. Each of the Core system’s essential ingredients consists of three main components:
- Relevance: a brief description of what the competency is and the areas of court management that it addresses
- Application: the key elements of the competency and specific descriptions of how an individual should be able to apply their knowledge effectively
- Related competencies: links to other competencies in the Core system that cover similar areas
- In addition, a resources section provides links to relevant reports, studies, tools, and other materials that can help an individual build their competencies as court leaders.