United Nations System Leadership Framework

Recognizing that new United Nations leadership qualities, skills and working methods are needed to meet the challenges of the ambitious and integrated 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in 2017 the United Nations System Leadership Framework was developed under the auspices of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) to establish a common United Nations leadership culture aligned with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The framework is an important contribution in response to the General Assembly’s request in its resolution 71/243 for the United Nations development system to align its staff capacities to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, including by building transformative and empowered leadership.

The framework is not merely a tool for human resources management, but also an important vehicle through which to foster broader cultural change within United Nations system organizations. The leadership qualities outlined in the framework can be embedded in all areas of work of the United Nations system, at all levels and in all functions and locations. Globally, the United Nations System Staff College supports the adoption of the framework and realization of its principles through training and learning events.

The framework features in the Secretary-General’s management reform efforts, through which it will be integrated into all leadership and management staff selection decisions at all levels across the United Nations Secretariat. The Secretary-General also instructs that leadership orientation, training, mentoring and coaching programmes be updated to align with the principles and characteristics laid out in the framework.

The “who, what and how” of UN leadership

The framework establishes that, in today’s challenging international environment, UN leadership:

  • is norm-based, promoting, protecting and defending United Nations norms and standards contained in international treaties, resolutions and declarations
  • takes a principled approach at all levels, always maintaining constructive engagement with all stakeholders on the most sensitive of issues and never discriminating, turning a blind eye to abuses, or giving in to pressure
  • is inclusive and respectful of all personnel and stakeholders, embracing diversity and rejecting discrimination in all its forms
  • is mutually accountable within the system, to beneficiaries – especially the most vulnerable, excluded or marginalized – and the public beyond, for the causes the organization serves and the way it conducts its work
  • is multidimensional, engaging across pillars and functions, connecting knowledge and experience, and ensuring coherence in support of the fully integrated SDG framework
  • is transformational at all levels, supporting the overall mission to achieve positive change as well as the significant change effort to implement the 2030 Agenda while leaving no one behind
  • is collaborative, reflecting the interdependent imperatives of the United Nations Charter and the comprehensive nature of the 2030 Agenda, seeking collective “as one” thinking, joined-up approaches and solutions, and recognizing that better connecting universal goals to people-centered initiatives requires investment in collective United Nations efforts to achieve them, and
  • is self-applied, so that United Nations principles and norms are exhibited in the behaviour and interactions of all leaders.

 Four ways of working exemplify these leadership characteristics:

  • focusing on achieving impact for the people the United Nation serves
  • driving transformational change to respond to the demands of the 2030 Agenda
  • employing systems thinking to deal with the complexities of sustainable development, and
  • co-creating solutions through inclusive partnerships.

The path towards operationalization deliberately gives organizations broad flexibility to define the best entity-level implementation roadmap, taking into consideration their own mandates, unique value offerings and specific needs. At the heart of implementing the framework is behavourial and organizational change, a long-term process that requires dedicated leadership and a purposeful, sustained effort over time.

About the development of the leadership framework

The CEB Common Principles for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, highlight the critical importance of transformative leadership across the UN system in Principle #10. A joint task team of the High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP) and the High-level Committee on Management (HLCM), led by the UN System Staff College, was formed in June 2016 to work towards translating this vision into reality, with HLCP contributing on the programmatic and policy viewpoints, and HLCM providing managerial perspectives towards its operationalization. In September 2016, HLCP supported building on the UNSDG leadership model to develop a unified proposal, a decision seconded by HLCM. Subsequently, the comprehensive proposal – highlighting eight defining characteristics of United Nations leadership, describing leadership in action, and outlining a path toward operationalization – was approved by both HLCP and HLCM in March 2017, and thereafter endorsed by CEB in April 2017

  • Future of Work
  • Leadership
  • High-Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP)
  • UN System Frameworks


  • Leadership.pdf

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