The Competencies included in this module focus on the creation of a strategic vision for the court. To perform this function, 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.


Leadership is an energetic process of creating vision resulting in commitment to a common course and preferred future. Just as there is no one best way to manage courts, there is no best way to be a court leader. Leadership is highly personal – some people are naturally better able than others although everyone can learn good leadership techniques.


Effective court managers/leaders create, implement, and nurture a clear and compelling vision for the court, bringing a strategic perspective to their work, while staying attuned to daily operations. The combination of leadership and proactive management enable the court to fulfill the public’s trust in the judiciary through service and adherence to the rule of law. The effective court leader is ultimately measured by the judiciary’s performance in the key areas procedural due process, the protection of rights, transparency, accessibility, the stewardship of scarce resources, and the achievement of timely justice in individual cases.[1] Effective court leadership delivers on these promises through a well-defined and fully operational governance structure.[2]

This Competency focuses on the traits and behaviors effective court managers/leaders should demonstrate. At their core, great leaders “turn ideas into reality and sustain them over time, independent of the leader.”[3] Thus, great leaders exhibit behaviors that require skills described in detail in the other Core Competencies. Leaders are optimistic, positive change agents who focus on important strategic goals. “…Leadership exists, when one or more persons engage others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”[4] Leaders are also visible, approachable, and model behavior courts need inside and outside of the organization. Court leaders, both judges and court executives, can achieve this result by working effectively in judicial executive teams.

A sound governance structure[5] establishes the legitimate authority for leadership to bring into action what needs to be accomplished and for the further development of trust between a central office and autonomous work units[6]. The governance structure needs to be clearly articulated so there is no confusion as to who has the responsibility and authority to lead. This is particularly important since the judicial branch works from a position of interdependence with others.[7]

[1] Link to Purposes and Responsibilities

[2] Link to Maintaining an Effective Court Governance Structure

[3] Cite to Warren Bennis

[4] James MacGregor Burns in Leadership

[5] See also Maintaining an Effective Court Governance Structure

[6] Link to Ibid.

[7] A Case for Court Governance Principles (p.3)


Regardless of the context in which a court operates, court managers who also provide proactive leadership for the court, should be able to:

  • Look beyond today’s crises by being grounded in the present while always anticipating the future.
  • Be persistent yet flexible, guide with credibility, respect others, and be accountable for actions.
  • Inspire others to act. Leadership that creates and sustains improvements has an inspirational dimension.
  • Influence and empower leaders and followers to work toward mutual goals.
  • Serve as an effective decision maker, conflict manager, and problem solver.
  • Simultaneously create, protect and maintain stability while taking risks, questioning the status quo, and stimulating growth and change.

Court managers who are also proactive leaders in their courts must draw upon a variety of competencies, which they will likely develop over time as their experience and perspective mature. Paramount among these are:

  • Providing vision with a focus: Leaders create vision; establish action plans that support this vision; and, with the help of others, clearly communicate the roles of departments and individuals in attaining the vision.   Leaders think in the long term and focus their own efforts and the efforts of others on core court purposes and the need to transition from the present to an inspired future.
  • Anticipating developments that will affect court operations and decision-making interdependencies with other justice organizations, the private bar, and other constituent groups: The environment in which courts operate is always changing, as a result of changing law enforcement priorities, prosecutorial policies, statutory changes, fiscal and other resources, demographics and many other factors. Court managers who are leaders in their respective courts must be competent in identifying the myriad of factors that will influence the court’s operations and services, anticipate the changes that will potentially occur, and plan for them.[1]
  • Proficiency in diagnosis and analysis: Court managers who provide proactive leadership for their courts must develop competency in measuring the court’s progress toward stated goals and meeting the needs and expectations of the public and regular court users, translating the results of this analysis into a plan for the future.
  • Effectively carrying out the court’s mission: Court leaders are dedicated to inspiring, preparing, supporting and guiding the court’s organization and people to achieve the all-important purposes of the judiciary. They are focused on insuring citizens’ constitutional rights are protected, that each case receives individual justice, that procedural due process is honored, and our society’s rule of law is preserved and enhanced.


[1] See Creating a Strategic Vision for the Court

Strategic Planning

A court leader often provides leadership for the court. In doing so, the court leader should develop and promote a strategic vision for the organization by establishing a strategic course for an organization, communicating that direction to internal and external stakeholders and engaging them to work collaboratively toward achieving the organization's mission.


The court leader not only manages the court but also must provide “leadership.” Whereas management is primarily about directing how the organization accomplishes its mission, leadership is about establishing a strategic course for an organization, communicating that direction to internal and external stakeholders and engaging them to work collaboratively toward achieving the organization’s mission. Effective court leadership is exemplified through strategic thinking, planning and action–all of which are critical components for the creation of a vision and plan to lead the court.

To fulfill this role, the court leader needs to focus on creating and sustaining a strategic vision for the court. This requires the court leader to demonstrate creativity, stamina, drive, conceptual and analytic skills as well as the ability to execute. A court leader who is competent in these areas is well-position to work as a leadership partner with judicial officers, to assess and respond to trends, to promote overall court capacity, and to guide the court in achieving its mission.


Court leaders who play a role in creating a strategic vision for the courts they serve should work, to the extent feasible, be able to competently:

  • Create a Strategic Orientation — The manager/leader must be able to create and use a strategic plan as a critical tool to guide the court in planning for and implementing the capabilities needed for the future. This orientation requires the development of long-term goals and objectives as well as short-term and intermediate standards. The court leader should have a commitment to the future of the organization, rather than merely the daily routine, particularly given the relatively short terms for many chief or presiding judges. The court leader must also serve as an agent for change, guiding the court to plan for the future based on critical analysis of current data and trends.
  • Use a System Wide Outlook — The court leader must think in terms of the court system, not one particular aspect of it. The strategic plan and vision for the court needs to take into account the interdependencies and complexities that impact the court in terms of demographics, crime trends, fiscal and other realities and related factors. The court leader must also demonstrate skill in incorporating the court’s planning and vision into the broader context in which the court functions.
  • Serve as a Consensus Builder and Collaborator — The court leader needs to be able to develop and build group consensus, inspire trust, and generate support from all justice system participants.  Also, the court leaders should develop plans that can be implemented through consensus and foster a shared vision for the future.
  • Be an Innovator and Risk Taker — Creating a vision for the future requires the court leader to attempt new initiatives, including those that test new ideas and theories.
  • Create a culture in the court that values critical thinking and planning.
  • Institutionalize a strategic planning process that is ongoing, revisited with regularity and monitored on a periodic basis, taking into account major trends affecting society and the courts.
  • Communicate and Educate – Use orientation and continuing judicial branch education to communicate, educate and thus advance the values and vision of the court.
  • Ensure that leadership and management actions are adjusted as necessary with the court’s strategic vision and plan, ensuring successful execution and follow-through on strategic priorities.
  • Maintain a local justice-planning network with continuous and effective working relationships with all justice system stakeholders.

Court Governance

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.