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Hit the ground running: Priorities for new human services leaders

Delivering public service for the future is an exciting – and challenging – remit. Leaders taking up office in 2015 should keep three priorities in mind.


Human services leaders are responsible for delivering programs that provide protection, rehabilitation and a better quality of life for vulnerable people. Few jobs are more rewarding – or more challenging. Based on Accenture’s experience working with human services agencies across the country, we believe leaders taking up office in 2015 must keep three priorities in mind from day one. In doing so, they’ll be ready to hit the ground running, and make a real difference to the communities they serve.

First, they have to articulate a clear vision for where they plan to take the agency – and how they intend to get there. Next, they must assemble a team that brings together the core qualities that will drive success from the outset. And third, they need to be ready to create buy-in through early “quick wins”, as well as being fully prepared for the unknown from day one.


Drawing on our work with human services agencies, and the experiences of team members that have held senior positions in human services departments, we’ve identified three immediate considerations for new leaders to take into account as they take up office:

  • First, articulate a roadmap for the journey. This means finding answers to some tough questions: How do you plan to implement the Governor’s vision? How will your department achieve more with less? As part of this process, it’s vital to understand where the agency is now – in terms of its business capability, technology and service delivery.

  • Second, build a balanced team. Assemble the skills that will be critical to future success: seasoned management, a real understanding of agency-wide challenges, performance and opportunities and, crucially, political insight. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

  • And third, create buy-in through “quick wins”. Identify longstanding issues, grab these low-hanging fruit, and achieve early results. At the same time, be prepared for the unknown. Test the agency’s disaster response and critical communications plan. Be ready for anything.


As new human services leaders set out to articulate their vision and understand how to achieve more with less in a challenging environment, they need in-depth insight into where the agency is right now – in terms of business capability, technology and service delivery.

To help them obtain the insights they need into how their organization is currently performing, and where it needs to improve/evolve, new leaders and their teams can use the Human Services Value Curve.

Developed by Accenture and the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), this is a guide to help human service leaders envision a path for their organization. In traversing the curve, the enabling business and technological models become increasingly integrated across programmatic, organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. Most important, the governance, culture and competencies of an organization mature, improving its ability to deliver broader and more valuable outcomes.


Newly appointed human services leaders have an exciting journey ahead in building and administering a critical safety net, pathways to an improved quality of life, and a stronger community. And this is just the start. So it’s essential that they should be clear about their vision, track it, and take real care with building their support team.

The old adage that it’s lonely at the top is especially true in public health and human services administration. But human services leaders don’t have to undertake their journeys alone. Active participation in organizations like the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and the Harvard Human Services Summit can provide invaluable access to experience-based information, which will accelerate progress as well as helping new leaders to establish a vital network of collegiality, contacts and support.