Transit managers and staff photos

Mission and Leadership

This section of the Transit Manager’s Toolkit discusses the importance of a transit organization’s mission, vision, and values.  It also provides an introduction on working with a transit board.  The section is organized in the following subsections:

Mission, Vision, and Values

As detailed in the first section of the National RTAP training module Roles and Responsibilities of Transit Managers, transit leaders need to have a clear vision and mission, identify the core values of the organization.

  • A vision statement is a view of an organization at its future best. 
  • A mission statement identifies why an organization exists. 
  • A value statement describes core beliefs and principles that guide an organization.

The vision is the highest role the transit manager sees the organization playing in the community both tomorrow and into the long-term future.  It is the organization at its best, and each decision is oriented toward achieving this highest role. This vision can change as an organization grows and re-evaluates its purpose.

A transit manager should promote a vision for the organization based on values shared by the management, staff and the community served.  Without this vision and a clear mission statement, it will be difficult to provide appropriate services, develop employee skills, and measure the success of the organization. 

The organization’s mission and vision drive strategic planning, service planning, and longer-range planning, as discussed in the Planning and Evaluation section of this toolkit. The performance and behavior of the agency’s employees should be also related to the mission and vision.  The transit manager may also wish to establish written organizational values, principles and beliefs that guide organizational behavior.

Creating Mission and Vision Statements

The mission statement describes what the organization does for the community today and in the near-term future. The mission statement should always align with the vision of the organization.  

The organization may or may not have a written vision and mission statement.  If it does not, this is an opportunity to establish both statements through a collective process.  If the organization does have a vision and mission statement, the statements should be reviewed periodically to ensure they still align with the services the agency provides. 

While the process of creating a mission statement should be collaborative, the actual writing of the statement should be handled by one person. The following are characteristics of a strong mission statement:

  • No longer than a few sentences
  • Sixth grade level of comprehension
  • Written in active voice
  • Has few superlatives, if any (adjectives and adverbs)
  • Direct and honest

Both new and existent statements should be reviewed for their effectiveness and validity. When doing this, keep these questions in mind:

  • Is it relevant and current?
  • Is it too difficult to understand?
  • Will it inspire staff?
  • Will it unify staff?

To begin, consider reviewing the vision and mission statements of other transit systems, and then getting input from your employees. We have provided a table at the end of this page with examples of rural, tribal and small urban transit systems’ vision and mission statements.

Mission and Values

The following is excerpted from “Mission & Values: Meaningful Words,” written by Michael Noel and published in Community Transportation magazine by the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA), Expo 2004, Vol. 22 No. 4, pages 12-14, used with permission from CTAA.

Our Mission Is Our Compass—Our Guiding Star

The more often organizational leaders talk about the mission, the more it influences the decisions and behavior of the organization.

While much has been written about the writing of mission statements, the more important question is how are these words used after they’re posted on the wall or the official letterhead? At the Area Transportation Authority of North Central Pennsylvania (ATA), a Board-Staff Retreat is held each year to review the previous year and plan out the future.  Item One on the agenda is “The Review and Reaffirmation of the ATA Mission.” The lesson gained from this activity is that the mission should serve the organization. It should define and guide the organization’s decisions made about service, fares, purchases and employee behavior. Also, I know that team-centered organizations, those who engage front-line employees in the development of mission and values, get great buy-in from everybody.

For example, organizations that have a mission that speaks to safety, courtesy and dependability will find the money to train drivers, will set up schedules that are predictable for the customer and will not tolerate rude behaviors. I often tell supervisors and managers that every time they hire or discipline an employee, the mission should be discussed. If an employee is late for work or is rude to a customer, he or she violates not only the work rule but the very mission of the organization. As a compass always points true north, a mission should always provide direction by pointing employees in the organization toward its true purpose.

Our Values Are How We Live and Work

People often struggle to understand the real meaning of values and how they work. I think the easiest way to understand an organization’s values is to first understand personal values, those intrinsic commitments that guide our behavior. Organizational values or principles are those beliefs that guide our organizational behavior. The leadership of an organization can be the guiding force in establishing organizational values. Having worked with hundreds of organizations, having carefully observed what works and what doesn’t, I will first present the leadership principles I believe anyone can embrace and the organizational performance code resulting from these principles.

Principles of Leaders Who Manage

  • Leaders consider both the needs of the people and the organization. They see management as a noble calling. They see management as a sacred trust.
  • Leaders live balanced lives within life and work. They care for their own as well as others mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. They are intrinsically motivated. They have self-integrity (harmony between what they value, believe and do). They practice and apply their faith to their work.
  • Leaders are students of their chosen profession.  Their work often becomes their hobby.  They read everything about their profession and ask others.  They see their organization through the eyes of their customers and front-line workers.
  • Leaders are visionary.  They have and share a positive attitude.  They speak openly and often about better things yet to come and plan strategically.  They honor the accomplishment of others.
  • Leaders don’t give up on people.  They embrace diversity and treat others as special. They listen carefully to others so as to understand.  They hold up standards for people and fairly evaluate their work and not their character.
  • Leaders put principles at the center of all activities.  They strive to be honest in all of their relationships.  They are dependable and consistent.  They forgive and seek forgiveness from others.
  • Leaders see themselves as a resource for others’ success.  They share credit.  They make careful decisions.  They take responsibility.

See the Human Resources section of this toolkit for an example of an employee performance code, excerpted from the same article, that resulted from discussing values, rather than rules, as a way to both simplify what is expected from employees and how they conduct themselves. 

Communicating with Staff about Vision and Mission

Vision and mission statements should be shared with the staff and community.  If this is not done, staff members may not be aware of the common goals of the organization, and the community will not have accurate expectations of the services that the organization can provide.  As a best practice, the vision and mission statements should be developed and periodically updated with input from employees.

Professional Development and Establishing Performance Goals

Vision and mission statements should be considered when establishing professional development programs and employee performance goals.  Each milestone should directly support the mission of the organization while developing the skills of the employee. As an organization serves new populations, provides new services, and implements new technologies, employees’ training and milestones should reflect these changes and give them the tools necessary to succeed. The success of the organization is dependent on each employee reaching their full potential in the workplace.  The previous example of the Transport Performance Code illustrates how employee behaviors and performance can be tied to the organization’s mission and values.  

Further Reading about Vision, Mission, and Staff Development

To learn more about vision and mission statements and communicating this information to transit system staff, see National RTAP's Roles and Responsibilities of Transit Managers.  

There is also valuable information on mission and leadership in these National RTAP technical briefs: 

Working with a Board

A transit manager has direct contact with the transit board. It is important to understand the role the board plays in the organization. There are two types of boards, each providing valuable service in different capacities. 

Advisory vs. Governing Boards

Members of advisory boards are generally varied in age, gender and professional background but come together due to a shared interest in the service the organization provides. Under the U.S. DOT implementing regulations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an agency is required to make all efforts to ensure the board is a reflection of the demographics of the community served, and no one can deny board participation based on race, color or national origin. An advisory board rarely has legal or fiduciary responsibility for the organization, but they do provide input on how the organization can better serve the community.  

Governing boards, however, have responsibilities that are more directly related to everyday operations such as creating organizational policy, approving the budget, monitoring operational and fiscal performance, and overseeing legal contracts. Unlike the advisory board, the governing board members are elected or appointed to fixed terms and have the authority to give the final opinion on matters concerning the organization.

FTA Title VI requirements related to minority representation on boards can be found in Chapter 3 and Appendix F of FTA Circular 4702.1B, Title VI Requirements and Guidelines for Federal Transit Administration Recipients.  

Role of the Board

Boards are generally involved in higher level planning and policy while it is the staff that is responsible for implementation. While each board will have a unique relationship with its organization, there are four primary roles that a board serves: stewardship, safety concerns, legal concerns, and advocacy.     


A benefit of the board is that it is removed from the daily operations of the organization. With this distance they are better able to balance the needs of the community with the resources available to the transit system. Because of this ability to balance needs with available resources, boards are involved in maintaining the financial health of the organization.  This can include reviewing the organization’s budget and financial statements as well as having an understanding of funding requirements at the local, state and federal levels.  Not only do the numbers need to be checked for accuracy and compliance with funding requirements, but the board should also be evaluating whether the costs and spending align with the organization’s mission statement.  

Safety Concerns

Through coordination with the staff, boards should actively ensure that proper safety measures are in place. This can include assuring safety training for employees, proper vehicle and facility maintenance, and procedures for emergency situations. 

Legal Concerns

In some cases, such as transportation authorities or private nonprofits, the board is the legal body.  As such, the members must approve all contracts, labor agreements, personnel policies, etc.  If it is a public organization, all board meetings, records and decisions must be made available to the public under federal and state laws related to transparency in government. Such laws vary from state to state, but typically include having open-door meetings that are advertised to the community. As a rule, this is not required of a private organization, although many choose to open their meetings to the public. 


Board members must be ambassadors of the organization and public transportation throughout the community. A board member should promote public transportation in his/her daily activities speak positively about the organization’s services and be the face of the organization in the community. Each board member should attend board meetings, community meetings and other events where the presence of the organization is needed.

For more information, please see National RTAP’s Boards that Perform training module.

Examples of Transit System Vision and Mission Statements

The following examples were accessed from the Internet in August 2020. Many of the web pages cited also contain examples of values and guiding principles.

Transit System




AMTRAN, Altoona, PA

(small urban)

To improve the economic well-being and the quality of life of our customers, our community, and our AMTRAN Team through the provision of excellent transportation services.

To be an integral and irreplaceable component of the region’s transportation infrastructure, and an innovative leader in public transportation excellence in Pennsylvania and throughout the USA.


Benzie Bus, Beulah, MI


Benzie Bus connects people of all ages and abilities to our community and promotes independence and prosperity through a safe and convenient public transit system.

Benzie Bus envisions a future in our Benzie County community in which:

  • All people can live, learn, work, and play conveniently and independently without driving.
  • People choose to travel via public transportation because it is a safe, affordable, modern, and environmentally friendly way of getting where they want to go.
  • Employers and employees prosper with convenient transportation solutions that support and strengthen communities and the local economy.
  • Families are strengthened and sustained through cost-effective and convenient transportation choices for all family members.


COAST, Dover, NH


COAST champions and provides customer-focused public transportation with a commitment to excellence in safety and service.

COAST is an innovative leader in providing a broad range of public transportation services, connecting and coordinating a robust network of transportation options for everyone.


Green Mountain Transit, Burlington, VT

(small urban, rural)

The mission of GMT is to promote and operate safe, convenient, accessible, innovative and sustainable public transportation services in the northwest and central Vermont region that reduce congestion and pollution, encourage transit oriented development and enhance the quality of life for all.



Mason Transit. Shelton, WA


We provide transportation choices that connect people, jobs, and community, increasing the quality of life in Mason County.

Driving our community forward.


Mountain Transit, Big Bear Lake, CA


Work in partnership with communities, businesses and organizations to develop, deliver and promote innovative and sustainable transportation solutions for travel to and around the San Bernardino Mountain region.

Effortless transportation options for the residents, workforce and guests of our diverse San Bernardino Mountain communities.


North Central Regional Transit District, Española, NM


The mission of the North Central Regional Transit District is to provide safe, secure and effective public transportation within North Central New Mexico in order to enhance the quality of life of our citizens by providing mobility options and spur economic development throughout the region.

To be an environmentally conscious, sustainable partner, enhancing the quality of life of the north central New Mexico communities and beyond.


OATS Transit, Columbia, MO


Enhancing quality of life by providing safe, caring & reliable transportation services.

Every OATS community receives superior transportation services.


River Cities Public Transit


River Cities Public Transit is committed to providing safe, reliable and courteous public transportation to the members of the communities we serve by promoting quality of life, livability, self-sufficiency and freedom through mobility.

To demonstrate a “Standard of Excellence” unparalleled in the small urban and rural transit industry by richly enhancing mobility options for residents in the communities River Cities Public Transit serves.


Sumter County Transit, Wildwood, FL


To ensure all citizens of Sumter County professional, efficient, and cost-effective transportation services. Sumter County will provide safe, clean, comfortable, and economical transportation; and be alert to citizen needs and prepare for those needs in a timely manner.



Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, Inc.

(small urban, rural)

To contribute to the overall social, environmental, and economic health in our service area by delivering safe, reliable and affordable transportation and, at the same time, being a responsive, responsible employer.

To become a model community transportation system committed to quality service, employee-management collaboration, and innovation.


Town of Ocean City Transportation


In a friendly manner and with safety as our primary goal, we are committed together to provide an efficient public transportation system to the residents and vacationers of Ocean City without incident, accident, or inconsistency.



Treasure Valley Transit, Nampa, ID


The mission of Treasure Valley Transit, Inc. (TVT) is to provide a viable public transportation system where the need is great and access is limited.

Treasure Valley Transit, Inc. sees the future of the Southwest Idaho region as distinguished by growth. Growth creates the necessity for TVT to provide alternate transportation options. Treasure Valley Transit is well positioned to serve the population and to provide benefits in terms of the environment, the movement of people, and the general quality of life in the region. This will be accomplished with the leadership of TVT working with the community in transit planning efforts.


Tri-CAP,  Waite Park, MN


The Mission of Tri-CAP is to expand opportunities for the economic and social well-being of our residents and the development of our communities.

The Vision of Tri-CAP is to provide services and programs that empower residents of our area to successfully achieve their goals of economic self-sufficiency.

Rhonda Torgersen and http://tricap.org/


Leading During a Crisis

It is often said that management is a function, while leadership is a role. During a crisis, big or small, how a manager acts and reacts to changing dynamics associated with a crisis will often define the very success or failure of the manager in the eyes of employees, riders and the community. The long-term legacy of the manager will be influenced by how they lead during a crisis.

Within any transit agency, there is the potential for crises, big or small, on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. Here is a list of both internal and external crises that a manager may need to lead through.



  • Serious accident with injuries
  • Serious accident with fatalities
  • Negative press involving the agency
  • Fiscal crisis
  • Unexpected death of an employee
  • Power outages
  • Bus evacuations
  • Hostile work environment
  • Labor/management issues
  • Onboard emergencies
  • Assaults
  • Harassment
  • Legal proceedings


  • Severe storms – with ongoing recovery
  • Declared states of emergencies
  • Criminal activity directed at employees, customers or property
  • Bus or building fires
  • Floods
  • Large or localized pandemics

While each crisis will present different challenges and responses, some basic ground rules to follow apply across the board, regardless of the nature, severity, or length of the crisis.

Seven Leadership Roles during a Crisis
  1. Prepare before the crisis. This involves having well thought-out plans, operating procedures, and supplies in place before something happens. For example, very few transit systems had a pandemic plan prior to the impact created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Few were prepared with internal stockpiles of personal protective equipment (face masks, disposable gloves, disinfectants and cleansers, etc.) prior to the pandemic. Fewer still had pre-determined policies or procedures for staffing, service changes, stay-at-home workers, etc. It is important to have regular planning sessions that address the “What if this happened?” question. This exercise would allow the creation of real, in-place action plans. A representative of the agency should also be involved in the community’s Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) which all counties now have to respond to larger community emergencies.
  2. Model the behavior expected in others. It is vitally important that the manager model the exact behavior expected of employees. Modeling a cool, calm, in-control emotional state is crucial during a crisis. Showing up during all hours to demonstrate to employees support, concern, and understanding of their extra efforts is very important for employee morale. Managers should be aware of what they say and do during a crisis. Blaming others will not fix anything and also gives others permission to speak and act in the same way. A positive “we are all in this together” attitude during a crisis is job number one for the managing leader.
  3. Communicate effectively. During a crisis, ongoing communication is essential. Have an up-to-date all-call / all-text / all-email system in place to communicate to staff important real-time information. Having an early morning and end of the workday staff meeting to keep everyone on the same page during a crisis is critical. Having a single point of contact for customer information (such as the agency’s website) is vital. Daily and even hourly changes in operations must be shared as soon as possible. A single point of contact at the transit agency with local media, such as a public information officer, is important to ensure that messaging is consistent, coordinated, and the transit agency’s official statements. All information to the public should come from that single source. The manager is the point of contact for the board of directors. Keeping the board and community leaders informed typically is done through senior management. The media to use (texts, emails, phone calls, etc.) are up to the manager. With virtual communication options available, no one should be left in the dark during a crisis.
  4. Address employee concerns up front. During a difficult time, employees worry about job security. Let people know the absolute truth about the future. Employees want to know how these events affect them, their families and their futures. Total and complete honesty during uncertain times is paramount. Also, it is so important to let employees know that their manager sees them as people first. Stop and talk. Let them vent. Offer encouragement and empathy during large scale emergencies. Remember, they may be scared and worried. Show humanity. It can be a comfort for employees and it is the right thing to do.
  5. Take care of yourself. There is an old saying that “you can’t give away what you don’t have.” It is critical that managers take care of themselves mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Stress during a crisis is real. Taking time for self-care so a manager can be strong for others is not selfish but necessary. Staying strong, well, and under control is vital to both physical and mental health.
  6. Take a broad, holistic view. During a crisis, it is easy to get trapped into a narrow focus of moment-by-moment decision-making. It is important that the manager empowers operations, dispatch and maintenance to make necessary decisions, which management will support. Employees need to know that the manager trusts them and will “have their back.” The manager’s job is to see the challenges and face them, as well as to see the opportunities for a better future. The “we will come out of this better” is not just a saying, but it is the manager’s responsibility.
  7. Celebrate success. In a crisis, even small successes matter. Thank people often. Announce success stories to everyone. This is what people need during a crisis. They need to see their manager as someone who appreciates their efforts, acknowledges any positive progress and shares credit. Any chance to share a positive story to the wider community through the media is beneficial during a crisis.

The functions of the manager are ever-changing, but the role of the manager during a crisis will show the true character of the leader.

For additional information on preparation for and leadership during a crisis, refer to the Safety, Security and Emergency Management section of the toolkit. The National RTAP Emergency Information Dissemination technical brief provides guidance on communicating during a crisis, including a case study with best practices.

Section Sources

Updated November 9, 2020