In recent years, policy-makers and researchers have identified regional development agencies as the most suitable actors to carry out public tasks. One of these tasks has been the coordination of regional development processes. Both practitioners and researchers argue that legitimacy is a prerequisite for these regional actors to function properly. Although legitimacy is a key issue, little is known about the challenges that arise while producing it. Selecting six regional development agencies in Switzerland and applying an interview-based research method, this explorative study analyses how regional development agencies deal with legitimacy issues. The findings indicate that the main problem with which regional development agencies struggle is not procedural rightfulness but means–end coordination. By proposing a clear distinction between legitimacy and justification, we aim to stimulate the debate on how to operationalize legitimacy and further the discussion of the functioning of regional development agencies. Consequently, we introduce the concept of ‘asymmetric justification’ to the debate on regional development processes in order to shed a light on the functioning of regional development agencies.