Last week I asked 40 communicators to nominate a communicator-leader they admired. The room feel silent and only two people raised their hands. I was stunned. Surely there must be more because PR specialists have leadership skills in profusion.
Recently I presented on the topic of leadership to Australian Government communicators in Canberra. Which got me thinking how PR people in government and business rank when they get the chance to lead. Are PR professionals superior, average or below par when it comes to leading teams and organisations?
Research on the subject of PR leadership is thin. There’s been some American research but scant Australian study. The topic has been “under researched, under developed, and largely unmeasured.” And it’s unsafe to be subjective and generalise about PR leaders because each situation and personality is different.
Within our profession there are stellar leaders and some very ordinary operators. Yet if all things are equal, communicators should have four distinct advantages over other professions when it comes to leading.
PR professionals are invariably well educated. During our formal schooling there is always a significant focus on understanding audiences – how others think, why they react the way they do and strategies and tactics to connect with them. Plus most of PRs are people persons which means we always put our audience centre-stage in our campaigns and interactions. Knowing and relating to audiences is hard-baked into us at every stage of our careers – a claim that cannot be made by management types like accountants and engineers.
We know communications is a two-way process and one way conversations rarely succeed. Our working lives revolve around listening, crafting messages, persuading, assessing reactions, adjusting and rethinking approaches. All essential leadership functions.
As a group we’re highly creative, ever on the lookout for fresh ways to engage and hold the attention of others. Creativity is important noticeably when a leader scopes a vision for others. Followers need a way ahead that speaks to something new, different or exciting. Individuals are rarely inspired by the familiar or commonplace so a leader must present a special something before she or he can expect to be joined on a journey into the unknown.
Leadership demands vision which in turn demands imagination. Creativity is something we do daily in our campaigns.
Bias for action
Communicators are a proactive bunch predisposed to act and experiment. Sadly our own organisations sometimes get in the way and hamper our ability to get things done. But even then most of us still carry an innate desire to achieve and the spark to move forward. Rarely is a PR professional happy taking it easy.
And the blinding obvious
Communicators communicate. That’s the core of our existence and that alone puts them ahead of almost every other profession. People in technical and managerial disciplines must learn to communicate before they can be effective leaders. We already have the personal and organisational skills to persuade and convince, which should give us a head start in any leadership race.