Standards for public agencies

2020 Edition

Administration and Management (PA-AM) 3: Agency Leadership

Agency leadership oversees operations and sets the direction of the agency through the following activities:
  1. long-term and annual planning;
  2. developing, implementing, and evaluating policy; 
  3. succession planning and leadership development;
  4. providing financial oversight; and
  5. interfacing with other government entities and oversight entities.


The individual or entity (i.e. office, unit, committee, etc.) responsible for carrying out each of the functions in this section can vary depending on the agency’s size and administrative structure. Agencies should establish for themselves a consistent definition for “agency leadership” and identify the applicable parties responsible for carrying out the responsibilities outlined in this section.




 Through sound administration and effective management, the agency achieves its mission and strategic goals; assures appropriate use of public resources for the public good; and remains responsive to the needs of the communities it serves. 
Full Implementation, Outstanding Performance
A rating of (1) indicates that the agency's practices fully meet the standard and reflect a high level of capacity.  
  • All elements or requirements outlined in the standard are evident in practice, with rare or no exceptions: exceptions do not impact service quality or agency performance. 
Substantial Implementation, Good Performance
A rating of (2) indicates that an agency's infrastructure and practices are basically sound but there is room for improvement.
  • The majority of the standards requirements have been met and the basic framework required by the standard has been implemented. 
  • Minor inconsistencies and not yet fully developed practices are noted; however, these do not significantly impact service quality or agency performance.

Partial Implementation, Concerning Performance
A rating of (3) indicates that the agency's observed infrastructure and/or practices require significant improvement.  

  • The agency has not implemented the basic framework of the standard but instead has in place only part of this framework.  
  • Omissions or exceptions to the practices outlined in the standard occur regularly, or practices are implemented in a cursory or haphazard manner.  
  • Service quality or agency functioning may be compromised.  
  • Capacity is at a basic level.
Unsatisfactory Implementation or Performance
A rating of (4) indicates that implementation of the standard is minimal or there is no evidence of implementation at all.  
  • The agency’s observed administration and management infrastructure and practices are weak or non-existent; or show signs of neglect, stagnation, or deterioration.
Self-Study EvidenceOn-Site EvidenceOn-Site Activities
County/Municipality Administered Agency, State Administered Agency (Central Office), or other Public Entity
  • Manual or procedures detailing communication protocols and reporting information
  • Summary of task forces/committees, including responsibilities
  • Long-term and annual planning procedures
  • Long-term plan (Child and Family Services Plan for state-administered child and family serving systems)
  • Annual Plan(s)
  • Procedures for policy development, implementation and evaluation
  • Agency leadership:
    1. Job description(s)
    2. Resumes or curricula vitae
  • Succession planning procedures
  • Succession plan
State Administered Agency (Regional Office)
  • If applicable, summary of regional task forces/committees, including responsibilities
  • Documentation of policy implementation (memos, training content, etc.)
  • Regional director:
    1. Job description
    2. Resumé or curriculum vitae
County/Municipality Administered Agency, State Administered Agency (Central Office), or other Public Entity
  • Meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes from the current year for annual planning
  • Policy drafts with comments from senior staff
  • Documentation of policy release and implementation (memos, training content, etc.)
  • Agency leadership testimony at budget hearings
  • Copies of relevant reports
State Administered Agency (Central Office)
  • Meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes from the current year for annual planning
County/Municipality Administered Agency, State Administered Agency (Central Office), or other Public Entity
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Agency leadership
    2. Policy development or legal/regulatory/compliance personnel
    3. Operations/program field personnel
    4. Community stakeholders
State Administered Agency (Regional Office)
  • Interviews may include:
    1. Regional director
    2. Program field personnel
    3. Community stakeholders


PA-AM 3.01

The agency establishes the following in an accessible, written format:
  1. communication protocols and reporting information for major functions/operations; and
  2. other structures or processes for implementing leadership responsibilities, including establishing task forces/committees.

Fundamental Practice

PA-AM 3.02

Leadership involves personnel across positions and departments in long-term planning every four to five years that includes:
  1. a review of the agency’s mission, values, mandates and strategic direction;
  2. a review of the demographics of its defined service populations;
  3. an assessment of the previous long-term planning cycle, including current strengths and areas for opportunity;
  4. measurable goals and objectives that support fulfillment of its mission, mandated responsibilities, and quality improvement priorities; and
  5. strategies for meeting identified goals.
Examples: To enhance its review, the agency can draw upon the findings of other external needs assessments, such as those conducted by the United Way, municipal planning boards, universities, or other agencies with a community-wide focus. Child and family-serving agencies may also refer to KidsCount, SACWIS, AFCARS, and NCANDS data; legislative study committee reports; and/or public health reports.

Fundamental Practice

PA-AM 3.03

The agency develops and implements an annual plan that integrates the priorities and objectives of each of its departments and programs, and:
  1. is staff driven;
  2. operationalizes the agency’s long-term strategic plan;
  3. reflects changing conditions and needs, such as resource allocation, funding and regulatory changes; and
  4. responds to information from PQI activities.
Related Standards:


State-administered agencies may develop one annual plan but should be able to demonstrate regional level planning activities and feedback.
Examples: Annual plans can also incorporate other regular planning processes, including:
  1. HR planning;
  2. evaluation of training needs;
  3. budget planning;
  4. technology and information management; and
  5. the annual PQI report.

Fundamental Practice

PA-AM 3.04

Leadership’s policy development, implementation, and evaluation responsibilities include: 
  1. establishing, reviewing, and revising policy;
  2. analyzing and adopting any changes to policies resulting from recommendations from various stakeholder groups;
  3. providing clear, timely, and thorough communications when policies are established or revised;
  4. ensuring front line supervisors have the information and support needed to guide staff on implementing policies;
  5. providing feedback to those establishing policy on recommendations from various stakeholder groups, including front line staff and their supervisors; and
  6. evaluating the costs and benefits of implementing policies for consumers and for the agency.

Fundamental Practice

PA-AM 3.05

Agency leadership’s financial oversight responsibilities include:
  1. setting resource development targets and goals, as reflected in federal, state, and county budgets and/or consolidated plans; and
  2. working with the legislature, legislative committees, and other relevant public entities to advocate for adequate and timely flow of resources to implement the agency’s strategic planning and budgeting decisions.


PA-AM 3.06

Agency leadership establishes and maintains collaborative partnerships with cabinet-level personnel, appointees, and personnel from other government entities.


PA-AM 3.07

Agency leadership provides regular, timely reports on operations, finances, and implementation of the long term plan and system-wide initiatives to the legislature, and oversight entities.
Examples: Reports to oversight entities on the agency’s finances can include:
  1. current financial status and any anticipated problems;
  2. shifting strategic priorities and their financial implications; and
  3. financial planning and funding alternatives.

Examples: Relevant public entities within a county model may include a county board, designated county board members, county committees, etc.  


PA-AM 3.08

Agency leadership, including the agency head and regional directors in state-administered agencies, have demonstrated competence in the agency’s mission and services as well as public human services administration, including human resources management, financial management, and cross-system collaboration.


Competence to fulfill the core functions of the position can be demonstrated through any combination of experience, formal education, and training.


PA-AM 3.09

To ensure continuity during transitions in leadership, the agency maintains succession planning procedures and a succession plan.


For state-administered agencies the succession plan should include relevant regional positions, such as regional directors.
Examples: Information included in a succession plan may include, for example:
  1. under what conditions interim authority can be delegated and the limits of that authority;
  2. relevant positions and the key leadership and management functions of those positions;
  3. to whom various leadership and management functions will be delegated; and
  4. the mechanisms for assessing personnel’s readiness to assume leadership positions and for providing training, mentorship, and other leadership development opportunities to ensure readiness.