The 8 Essential Leadership Skills for Today’s Communications Manager

By:  Tom Morse, Principal Multimedia Project Manager, SAS

What does it take to be an effective leader of a corporate communications team? True leaders embody qualities that enable their team to deliver results and value, while building employee loyalty. At a time when market forces, globalization, and a new generation of employees is changing the workplace, the old command-and-control approach to management no longer works. Corporate communications managers must engage with employees in a way that leads to their success, the success of the department and the corporation.

Leadership and Management
Media_Leadership_QuoteMuch has been written about the differences between leadership and management. In many cases the terms are used interchangeably. While each has their own function and system of actions, there is a difference. Leadership is a broader concept involving strategic vision, while management involves the fundamental skills required to deliver tactical objectives. In most cases communications managers must do both because the relationship between leadership, management, and followers is complex. Experienced leaders understand they don’t have subordinates, because to lead is to have followers, and following is always voluntary.

Thanks to many of my CMMA and MCA-I colleagues for sharing their ideas about leadership. Their thoughts have helped shape my thinking on the eight behaviors central to your success as a corporate communications manager.

1. Vision/Purpose: As the leader of an organization you need set a clear, compelling vision for your team and the work they deliver. It’s about establishing a vision, not necessarily being seen as a visionary. A well-reasoned vision for the work of your team is critical in uniting your people behind a purpose they can feel confident in supporting.
Leaders: Inspire and empower – Managers: Provide resources

2. Character: People follow those they can believe in – leaders who demonstrate integrity, honesty, determination, and respect for others. As a leader it’s important you model the behaviors you want demonstrated by members of your team. Their attitude and work ethos is largely a reflection of your approach to the job. As a leader it’s important to know the skills of the people on your team and delegate accordingly. There are also times you should take the lead. Not to show you are “part of the team,” but to stay grounded in the understanding of their needs and to earn their trust and loyalty.
Leaders: Lead from in front – Managers: Provide structure

3. Listen Courageously: While a manager can establish controls, a leader must do more. To succeed it’s important to be a good listener, remain open to input from all stakeholders and respectful of their ideas. A leader needs to learn how to ask questions and not be afraid to utilize the collective knowledge of those around them. A successful leader must develop the ability to listen carefully and act courageously when called upon to do so.
Leaders: Seek opportunity – Managers: Control risk

4. Communicate Clearly: Interpersonal skills and the ability to motivate people has become a core competency of leadership. As a manager you must communicate effectively with members of your team and serve as the principal ambassador of your organization. Be transparent – those around you will respond positively if your decision-making process is viewed as open, fair, and consistent.
Leaders: Energize and inspire achievement – Managers: Coordinate effort

5. Demonstrate Flexibility: The speed of business requires constant monitoring of business trends, directions, and opportunities. Armed with this information, it’s your job to listen courageously and communicate clearly any change in direction. Consider the best ideas from those around you and formulate goals the team can rally behind. But remain true to your principles and the mission of your organization. Being flexible does not mean constantly changing direction. Your credibility as a leader requires focus and directing the effort of your team on the most promising opportunities.
Leaders: Deal with change – Managers: Deal with status quo

6. Embrace Risk: Guardians of the status quo can never be leaders. It takes courage to seek new and better ways your team can contribute value back to the corporation. As a left-brain, right-brain activity, this is one of the most challenging aspects of being a leader. But, it’s not about taking risk for the sake of doing something different. It’s about developing new ideas that deliver true business value. Be prepared for change and when the opportunity is right, pursue it.
Leaders: Pursue innovation – Managers: Facilitate process integration

7. Technical Competence: As a member of the management team you’re accountable to the organization for delivering business results, not demonstrating technical prowess. As a leader you need to be fully abreast of rapidly changing technology. You need a keen understanding of the issues and the expertise needed to address these challenges while ensuring the success of your team. It does not mean you need to be a technical expert in all aspects of communication, but you must stay informed about the forces shaping our industry.
Leaders: Create a learning culture – Managers: Process control for sustained results

8. Build Your Team: A leader is only as effective as the team they build. Be passionate. Inspire others to dream and provide them the opportunity to achieve. Demonstrate you value them as people, as well as contributors to the organization. Recognize and reward their efforts and that of others to reinforce those actions. As a leader your success will be measured by the success of others.
Leaders: Select talent and mentor – Managers: Guide and provide direction

Leadership Journey
To become a better leader think back to a time in your career when you were a follower. Which leaders inspired you to make your best effort? Each of us possessed strengths, talents, and the wisdom that comes with experience. We also have flaws, something a successful leader never loses sight of – we’re human after all. Some people are born to be leaders; others develop the skills that enable them to lead. If you truly aspire to a leadership position, or want to make the most of your opportunity, work hard at these eight skills. It promises to be a rewarding journey.

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