Why PR people should be great leaders

Thu, May 05 2016

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?

Photo credit: Rusty Crawshaw


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 every personality is different.

Within our profession there are stellar leaders and unfortunately some very ordinary operators. Yet 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 a significant focus on understanding audiences – how others think, why they act the way they do and on strategies and tactics to connect with them. Plus most 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 throughout our careers. A claim accountants, financiers and other management types can never make.

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 of which are 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. They are rarely inspired by the familiar or commonplace so a leader must present an extra 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 in our campaigns every day.

Bias for action

Communicators are a proactive bunch predisposed to act and experiment. Rarely is a PR professional happy resting. Sadly our own organisations sometimes hamper our ability to get things done. But even then most of us still carry an innate desire to achieve and the spark to drive forward.

The obvious

Communicators communicate. That’s the core of our work life and that alone puts them ahead of almost every other profession. People in technical and managerial disciplines must first learn to communicate before they can be effective leaders.  We already have the personal and organisational skills to persuade and convince. And that should give us a head start in any leadership race.


Author: Bob Crawshaw, Blogger.

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