We analyze how local leaders make targeting decisions in the context of a public workfare program in Lao PDR. We first assess effectiveness of targeting by village heads: we check whether they selected poorer village households and how their selection compares to a selection based on proxy means test (PMT). Second, we attempt to shed light on the process of selection through administering to the village heads a series of ranking exercises. We explore what criteria they rely on in selecting program beneficiaries – for example, did they aim to select chronically poor households or households who recently experienced a shock? We also check whether village heads had accurate information about these criteria. Finally, we explore whether targeting by village chiefs is viewed as fair and acceptable by the community members. Our results suggest that village heads indeed select significantly worse off individuals compared to a random sample, and within their villages prioritize the poor at the same level as PMT-based selection would. They do so by relying on a combination of easily observable characteristics, forming a holistic impression of household welfare, rather than on specific indicators like actual land ownership, nutrition or economic shocks.