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Public Relations

Defining Leadership in PR

Defining Leadership as a Public Relations Professional

lead·er·ship   [lee-der-ship]  noun

the position or function of a leader,  a person who guides or directs a group: He managed to maintain his leadership of the party despite heavy opposition. Synonyms: administration, management, directorship, control, governorship, stewardship, hegemony. (Dictionary.com)

In one capacity or another, we are all members of a team. Often this means being apart of a decision-making body. For PR professionals, this is the best place to be, to “have a seat at the table” so to speak. This is something we’ve talked about a lot in my management and public relations classes. But once we have that position of power, how do we define our role within the group? What is the role of a public relations person as a leader?

I think there are several defining characteristics that are important when being a leader.

  • Take ownership and responsibility. This means owning your ideas, your projects, your successes and your failures. In public relations, we work to keep a positive image for our organization, company or brand, but at times we are also working to resolve a crisis. Being open and transparent in the event of an issue is important, because it shows that we are taking ownership for our actions.
  • Be ethical. Part of having a seat at the table is being able to be a voice of reason for executives who might not foresee a crisis the way PR-minded individuals do. In order to have this influence, though, PR pros must also make smart and ethical decisions. Walk the walk.
  • Delegate. Being a leader isn’t about doing it all. It’s about inspiring others to work with you towards a common goal. As a PR-minded person, you can offer you expertise and give others the tools to communicate more effectively with stakeholders, customers, etc.
  • Stay creative. It’s important to keep a fresh perspective on all situations. Especially when dealing with conflict, being able to take a step back and evaluate the bigger picture is important. Read the news. Stay current! It will benefit you and your clients.
  • Build relationships. Networking is important for all professionals, but especially for leaders. You want to be the go-to person. Build mutually-beneficial relationships with everyone from the janitor to the CEO. You never know who might share a great idea or offer something of value to you or your company.

This is hardly a complete list. Most important, I think, is the need to define the place of public relations professionals as leaders. What can we bring to the table that others cannot? What are our strengths? Power.  Leadership is about understanding power. This means acting ethically and appropriately in an organizational setting. Power shouldn’t always have to be used, as long as its presence is known. What power do public relations professionals have in the workplace?

How can theories about public relations management be applied in a practical way?

  1. Keep management informed on public opinion
  2. Serve public interest
  3. Use research and evaluation tools
  4. Communicate
  5. Manage relationships

Please, comment below!


About Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith is a public relations student at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Amanda is currently the V.P. of Public Relations on the Panhellenic Council executive board. She is also involved with PRSSA and Hill Communications, a student-run public relations firm.


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