For the forthcoming OMP, we're making more use of the Notifications framework and it might be useful here as well. Barbarah, have a look at pages/admin/AdminSettingsHandler.inc.php at the very end of the file:
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$notificationManager = new NotificationManager();
This creates a "Your settings were saved" message. It's not an error condition, but you may be able to use the same structures to present an error as well; have a look at the NotificationManager's API.
This applies much more to OMP than OJS, but since they both share the same lib/pkp code including the base PKPNotificationManager class, it's worth investigating.
Public Knowledge Project Team