A Guest Post By Marlene S. Neill, Assistant Professor at Baylor University
Many young professionals aspire to leadership roles in their organizations, and senior executives advise the way to the top requires a concerted effort to build relationships across an organization over time.
Consistent with this advice Redmond and Trager (1998) wrote, “Doing a good job is not enough. For your career to move forward, you have to be adept at social relationships, building alliances, and building trust among those above and below you in the hierarchy” (p. 154).
My coauthor, Amy Barnes, and I conducted 58 in-depth interviews with senior executives who are members of the PRSA College of Fellows and Arthur W. Page Society in preparation for the book, “Public Relations Ethics: Senior PR Pros Tell Us How to Speak Up and Keep Your Job.”
The senior executives pointed out that building relationships with colleagues inside your company or organization is similar to building friendships. You need to show a genuine interest in your colleagues and in learning about and understanding their role in the organization.
While this requires a huge time investment, many of these relationships can be built while working together on cross-departmental projects for the company or organization. At the same time, a Page Society membership offered this advice, “I think it’s really incumbent upon us to get out there and get out from behind our desks and spend as much time with colleagues and customers and stakeholders as possible,” (Neill & Barnes, 2018, p. 36).
Consistent with this advice, relationship building also requires informal conversations around lunch or coffee or a simple chat in the hallways or offices.
Over time, these relationships help public relations professionals build social capital, which means they are given access to information and meetings that help them become more influential and more effective in their jobs.
Some of these relationships may result in mentors or allies that you can count on when needed. A Page Society member referred to these treasured relationships as sponsors:
It’s an individual or group of individuals who probably most simply stated have a level of relationship with you and think highly enough of you, what you stand for, your position, your point of view, that they will speak up for you, defend you, advocate for you, even when you’re not in the room.
The senior executives we spoke to said they focused on building relationships with colleagues who worked in legal, finance and operations as well as other communication disciplines such as marketing and investor relations.
While relationships are crucial, so are the basics. Young professionals who aspire to leadership roles also must be successful in their jobs, do their homework so they can provide solid counsel and be willing to put forth the extra effort. As a Page Society member said:
It’s amazing how many people want to just get up in the morning, come to work, show up at 8, go home at 5. The best conversations you’re going to have are after 5 o’clock…if you’re not there at 7 in the morning, 7:30, you’re not going to have those private conversations with the CEO… if that’s what you want, you can’t have it (Neill & Barnes, 2018, p. 107).
This is just a brief sample of the exceptional advice provided by the senior executives. We invite you to check out our book for more practical advice on building relationships and how to become more influential.
Marlene Neill, Ph.D., APR, is an assistant professor at Baylor University. She teaches courses in public relations and advertising. She also serves as the faculty adviser for the Baylor PRSSA chapter. Her research interests include public relations management and ethics. She has published research in the following journals: Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Public Relations Review, Journal of Communication Management and Journal of Advertising Education.
Neill is an accredited member of the Central Texas Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She served as the chair for the Southwest District of PRSA in 2011. At the national level, Neill served a three-year term on the Universal Accreditation Board, which administers the examination for Accreditation in Public Relations; the Nominating Committee, which selects national board officers in 2012; and was appointed to the Board of Ethics & Professionals Standards in January of 2013.
Redmond, J., and Trager, R. (1998). Balancing on the Wire: The art of managing media organizations. Boulder, CO: Coursewise Publishing.