A system leader or agency has a mandate (via the Public Service Commissioner or Cabinet respectively) to lead on a particular function across the public service. 

The basics

  • When to use this tool

    • There is a need for stronger more centralised coordination of certain functions to enable improved government performance
    • Areas where there are likely to be benefits to a common approach, for example, standard setting, infrastructure provision, capability, strategic planning, strategic investment and/or an assurance role


  • How to agree goals/outcomes

    • Outcomes agreed with appropriate minister
    • PSLT to set strategic direction for achieving outcomes


  • Governance model required

    • System leader or agency to keep PSLT updated on progress as necessary, and consult PSLT when appropriate (for example, drafting of standards)
    • System leader could form a CE governance group where useful


  • Ministerial relationships required

    • Appropriate minister for System Leader or agency


  • Incentives required

    • As for functional leader/head of profession
    • Plus any of:
      • assurance function for new related budget bids and major projects
      • mandatory standards set by a system leader (with Cabinet approval)


  • How to manage the funding

    • As for functional leader/head of profession model

    A system leader appointed by the Public Service Commissioner will be a Public Service chief executive (whether of a department or departmental agency or a Functional Chief Executive).

    Supplementary guidance note — functional chief executives

Case Study: Government Chief Digital Officer — System Leader for Digital

The role of Government Chief Digital Officer (GCDO) has existed in some form for the last decade, largely as a functional leader. This role is held by the Chief Executive of Department of Internal Affairs. The GCDO is responsible for:

  • setting digital policy and standards
  • improving investments
  • establishing and managing services
  • developing capability
  • system assurance (assuring digital government outcomes).

The GCDO’s mandate applies to all Public and non-Public Service departments as well as major Crown agents. Other public sector agencies are also participating in many of the initiatives GCDO is leading.

The GCDO was recently designated as a system leader by the Public Service Commissioner, recognising the opportunity to go further in centralising this function, and taking a whole-of-public service approach to strategic planning and investment in digital technology.

The GCDO is part of a system leaders chief executive group convened by the Public Service Commissioner. This group ensures the interdependencies between their work are managed and identifies common issues and opportunities in their work.

Government Chief Digital Officer — NZ Digital Government