Making the leap from head of comms to the boardroom

It is key for PR pros to recognise that when going for a board or executive committee position they are not just taking the next step on the career ladder.

That’s the view of board advisor and leadership coach Catherine May: “You’re not just going for a more senior comms role, you’re becoming a credible leader of the organisation.”

Speaking at Ellwood Atfield’s Head to Director event, May said that you need to understand that once you reach that level you are no longer purely a comms specialist.

“The executive committee might meet for a whole day and not discuss anything to do with you. It could be a session on re-insuring and if you can’t contribute then you aren’t ready.”

May, who has served as Corporate Affairs Director at three FTSE 40 organisations, believes that when interviewing for senior positions CEOs are often unaware of what makes a good comms pro while the candidates are equally unaware of what the board is looking for.

“It’s more than likely that this is the first time that you have been interviewed by someone who is not a comms expert. They won’t understand how wonderfully well-connected you are or the value of your network. You need to rethink how you tell your story.”

To achieve this it is important to understand the CEOs challenge and that of the business in general. Becoming fluent in the language of finance and understanding of corporate risk is vital. That way you can provide insight in to how the organisation can better achieve its commercial goals and what comms can do to help.

“Finance directors change things because they can wield a big stick,” says May. “We don’t have the big stick so we have to use influence. Build networks with other senior leaders and understand what concerns them.”

Despite change of perspective that might be needed, May believes that now is a better time than ever for comms professionals to make it to the top of large organisations.

“Boards are thinking more and more about reputational issues and many have identified an increase in the number and type of stakeholders that they are responsible for as one of the key changes in the business environment.”

All skills which public relations practitioners excel at make them more credible candidates for the boardroom than ever before.

Rob Smith is the editor of Influence. He's a reporter with a background in business journalism.

  1. Interesting but in my experience the contribution to colleagues was sought by them. Reputation makes the work of an FD easier or harder depending on how good the organisation’s PR is. Ditto for Human Resources, Purchasing etc.

    Of course, you have to explain this to co directors (regularly) but that is good fun too.

  2. Whilst the article makes some interesting points, I would like to see some calls to action. Are there any links or further readings or courses that you can point to. It doesn’t quite feel complete without them. Thanks

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