Dee Cayhill, director of Cayhill Partners, explains how communications directors can secure non-executive director (NED) and other leadership roles and why doing so matters.
The need for boards to better manage their company’s reputation and identify risks has never been more critical. Yet when looking at the make-up of boards, particularly those in the FTSE, non-executive directors with these skills are noticeable by their absence. So how can communications leaders increase their chances of securing NED and other leadership roles? And what’s the benefit to today’s organisations?
What can corporate communications directors do to get ahead?
Being a strong communications leader is a start but is not enough on its own. To get ahead, communicators need to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge and leadership outside of the confines of the discipline.
That means gaining strong financial literacy and operational experience. A mentor, such as the company CEO, will open doors to taking on wider responsibilities and also support candidacy for NED roles. Building a career across multiple sectors – including in high-profile organisations that are regulated and issues-rich – also tends to pay dividends.
Being proactive, creating a strong professional network, picking the right headhunters, developing your USP and being seen as a genuine contributor to the business will considerably increase the chances of securing NED roles. And as more communications leaders begin to break through, it will inevitably smooth the path for others to follow.
The benefits of appointing communications leaders to the board
The good news for chairmen and nominations committees is that hiring people with communications experience can create tangible benefits around the top table.
After all, here is a group of professionals with a unique skillset, from managing corporate reputation to bringing in perspectives from outside the business, engaging with multiple stakeholders, taking complex information and distilling it to its core, influencing and advising at senior level, and understanding how company decisions would play out in the public arena.
For those organisations keen to expand their boardroom talent, increase levels of diversity around the top table, as well as improve their corporate reputation management and risk identification, appointing people who have strong business acumen coupled with corporate communications experience could add a unique element to their leadership teams.
The increasing importance of reputation, trust and advocacy skills within organisations and the corresponding growth in the stature of the corporate affairs function will open up career opportunities for communications directors.
However, we are not there yet and in our opinion the communications industry as a whole needs to be far more proactive in articulating the unique capabilities of senior communications practitioners, as well as helping educate the wider business world about the value a background in communications can bring to other leadership roles.
Dee Cayhill is director of Cayhill Partners, the communications executive search, capability benchmarking and coaching firm. Their report, ‘Beyond Corporate Affairs: How can senior communicators secure non-executive director roles to broaden their careers’ , has just been published.