The wider leadership potential of the effective public relations manager
Many PR managers find it difficult to understand management issues beyond the level of communication concerns. However, to be fully accepted by top management, you need to think like a manager, understand management issues from management’s perspective, talk like a manager (not use PR jargon) and to figuratively put yourself in the shoes of operational managers in looking at their problems.
Above all, you are proactive and assertive, prepared to insist that PR should be at the table when corporate decisions are being made: “Very few business decisions don’t require communication.”1 You will ensure that when business plans are drawn up, their communication implications are considered.
How PR managers can become leaders
The pragmatic strategy for you as PR manager to be a leader is:
- Learn and think about the issues that matter to management as top priority.
- Tune in to the operating environment. Create a network of contacts, people who can act as listening posts internally and externally. Pay special attention to the things that don’t work, eg monitor customer complaints.
- Be prepared to offer advice in areas not directly involving communication. Most management decision-making is operational in nature.
- Challenge the prevailing organizational wisdom. There are many solutions to problems; try looking at organizational problems from a different perspective.
- Build coalitions. Find key influencers, the experts, people who have the resources, knowledge, and the power to make things happen. Coalitions and alliances can’t be built instantly; build them up over time.
- Learn to persevere. Everything can look like a failure in the middle. It’s the hard work between the start and the end that really sorts out the leaders.
- Remember the everyday heroes. Remember to recognize, reward and celebrate the accomplishments of your immediate team as well as groups elsewhere in the organization. Recognition is a huge motivator, and it is often free.
- Avoid referring to revenue or cost saving achieved through communication programs unless it can be documented and accepted by the accountants, i.e. the actions have credibility with hard-nosed managers (too many PR metrics are ‘feel-good’ exercises).
- Focus on the outcome rather than process in each case.
Success in influencing management attitudes can be measured in three informal ways:
- You are asked to attend important meetings and those special informal sessions where the real decision-making occurs.
- Operational managers seek you out privately for your views and advice.
- Your advice is used and your comments are quoted around the organization (mostly without attribution to the source). 2
Turning decisions into reality
In working with corporate leaders over several decades, legendary management consultant Peter Drucker concluded that the most effective managers apply 8 practices for turning decisions into reality:
- They asked, “What needs to be done?”
- They asked, “What is right for the organization?”
- They developed action plans.
- They took responsibility for decisions.
- They took responsibility for communicating.
- They focused on opportunities rather than problems.
- They ran productive meetings.
- They thought and said “we” rather than “I”. The first two practices gave them the knowledge they needed. The next four helped them convert this knowledge into effective action. The final two ensured that the whole organization felt responsible and accountable.
Take responsibility for decisions
They took responsibility for decisions, and considered that a decision wasn’t made until people knew:
- the name of the person accountable for carrying it out;
- the deadline;
- the names of the people who would be affected by the decision and therefore had to know about, understand and approve it – or at least not be strongly opposed to it;
- the names of the people who had to be informed of the decision, even if they were not directly affected by it. 3
You would be well advised to put the Drucker formula in a prominent place to remind you how to improve your effectiveness.
- Piper, Alan (former Director General of the Western Australian Department of Justice). “The important role of public affairs in managing a State Government department”.
- Lukaszewski, James E. “Influencing Management Attitudes”.
- Drucker, Peter. “Peter Drucker on making decisions.”