By Darryl MeadDaven RosenerMelinda CoyneMike Klein and Sia Papageorgiou.

As communication professionals, why are we still asking for a seat at the table when we already have our hand on the steering wheel? It’s time to lead without asking permissionAt the recent #WeLeadComms Open Conference, the five of us spent time exploring this topic and how we can collectively step up. A key insight shared is that while communication pros sometimes think business leaders are hesitant to give them permission, many business leaders find communication pros excessively hesitant when things need to happen. So there’s a real need to break this circle of hesitation.

It’s been a year, or more, of intense communication as we jumped into crisis mode and stepped up to help guide businesses through the pandemic, keep employees reassured and informed and, critically, enable leaders to be more effective communicators. That’s a lot, yet there’s an underlying ambition among communication pros to be taken more seriously. To gain more credibility. As a discipline, we battle legitimacy issues through being perceived as the people who send messages out, or tidy up the PowerPoint. And when our colleagues think they can do the work that we do, it creates an uphill battle sometimes. Feeling that we lack the authority and resources to deliver real impact, we often focus on what we are good at (writing, crafting, planning, delivering) rather than taking the initiative to identify and pursue the outcomes the business needs. 

Compounding the issue is the functional domination of key activities, for example HR leading Employee Experience, that involve a communication element but where the organization’s own communication professionals are in a secondary role. Functional domination over the communication role itself – where a reporting line into HR, Marketing or Operations gives the owning function a dominating voice over the agenda that gets pursued and the content that gets shared, and can interfere with communication professionals feeling they have sufficient scope to intervene constructively on broader organizational challenges.

When they are appropriately self-empowered or have effective sponsorship, communications professionals are uniquely capable of creating solutions that can leverage, magnify and accelerate impact. We can shape solutions and spread them quickly and comprehensively. We have to seize the ‘neutral ground’ – own the moment before other functions.  We can also build broad, multifunctional constituencies or “audiences” as well as supporting the functional turf.

What would that look like in practice? Here are 11 things:

  1. Own the stage. Take the lead. We often wait to be invited – and sometimes get called out for waiting. But how do you do that when there are competing functions and stakeholders?
  2. Bring intelligence and insights. Invest in time in discovery, research and insights and line them up against the business strategy. Speak the language of the business. Search out strategic projects that will shift the dial. We have a privileged position that gives us insights to drive action and agendas.
  3. Dive deeper into audience planning vs. business-wide planning. How much do we know about how to reach people? Where are they, what are their interests and who are their networks in our organisation?
  4. Think as abusiness person instead of a comms person. Be the person who makes organisations move forward across functions, demographics, hierarchies. Create and nurture winning coalitions, mobilise networks.
  5. Connect. Functional ownership is an issue – we can turn it around by connecting the functions and driving the agenda. We know all parts of the business and the people – make the connections and learn along the way.
  6. Buildproblem-specific solutions that draw on our comms skills of writing narratives, illustrations, and amplification. Use a business analysis approach and solution development. For example, are we developing a climate crisis comms strategy for our businesses? 
  7. Be proactive, highlight and share your own insights. Get better at illustrating how we work and we make our stakeholders, constituents or constituencies successful.
  8. Invest in certification such as the GCCC Global Standard-based Communication Management Professional (CMP) and Strategic Communication Management Professional (SCMP) – the only communication certifications in the world that meet ISO standards. This can be a tool for contextualizing and clarifying value and roles. 
  9. Measure outcomes, track actions, track message recall and outcomes and quantify friction. Create measures that reflect our specific contributions.
  10. Get closer, own outcomes as well as processes.
  11. Show them what “good” is, share examples of excellent communication from inside and outside the company with relevant leaders 

You’ll probably be thinking ‘I don’t have time for all that, I’ve got a presentation to write for tomorrow’. Yes, it’s new territory for many and requires different work and time. It’ll demand a conversation about resources and focus for impact. We need to be disciplined and deliberate – professionally and organizationally. It won’t happen without building a track record. One awesome solution and impact gets us fully in the game. We have to seize ‘neutral ground’ – own the moment before other functions. We need to be more Qatar than Switzerland. We need to know our organisations and their constituencies, learning, researching, and planning with intention and discipline, confronting when necessary. 

Are you fully in the game and making waves? We’d love to hear and share your stories. 


EACD member Mike Klein is the founder of #WeLeadComms.  For more information about upcoming events and the #WeLeadComms daily recognition program for communication leaders, visit https://www.linkedin.com/company/weleadcomms/