Taking that C-suite seat: 4 tips for communicators

Four pieces of advice for anyone serious about making sure communications has a seat at all the right tables.

Tara Smith is Managing Partner at Voxus PR.

Diane Schwartz’s Ragan article, “Communicators need to shed cameo role for the lead” caught my attention recently and it’s something that should be on the mind of every communications leader. The value of effective communications for any organization cannot be overstated – there are simply too many examples of lasting damage from “communications gone wrong.” The imperative is clear: we must have a seat at the C-suite table.

Unfortunately, there are far too many communicators who are willing to stand on the side or, worse, find themselves pushed there. Having grappled with this myself, here are four pieces of advice for anyone serious about making sure communications has a seat at all the right tables.

    1. Establish yourself as a business leader: So many communicators try to get by with a surface-level business understanding, and it’s one of the fastest ways to get relegated to a tactical level (i.e., the kids’ table). Invest the time to understand your organization’s financials, business model, sales cycle, product development cycles – whatever helps you be fluent in the language of that business.
    2. Prove your value with an informed point of view: There is a famous expression often repeated by senior execs: “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” A valuable statement, not only because it encourages diversity in thought but because it also underscores that if you expect to have a seat with the C-suite, you need to earn it. This means providing clear, well-informed perspectives and recommendations – especially when you see things going in the wrong direction. This is where a lot of people clam up, but you must come to the table prepared and you must be willing to speak up. Other execs may not agree with your point of view, but if you back it up with supporting data and a well-thought-out rationale, they will respect you more than if you sit there silently.
    3. Have some swagger: Sometimes to get your seat at the table, you just have to take it. There was a particular instance earlier in my career when I felt communications needed to have a direct voice in a specific executive team discussion. The easier path would have been to stay on the sidelines and say it was above my pay grade. But I felt so strongly about it that I just invited myself to that discussion. I was even challenged by one of the other execs who bluntly asked if I had been invited. I looked him straight in the eye, said “of course” and sat down. While I may have forced my way into that particular meeting, I proved my value (see point #2) and was invited (officially) back to future discussions. This won’t work in every scenario, but sometimes you have to assert yourself and act like you belong to show that you do.
    4. Don’t try to be the expert in everything: There are times when you aren’t the best person to be in a discussion or you may not have what you need to provide a point of view. The worst thing you can do is try to fake it. At best, it could undermine your credibility; at worst, it could lead to grave communications mistakes. Great leaders also have great teams, and they are confident enough to step aside and let someone else step forward if it will drive a better outcome.

There is no easy button when it comes to getting communications the seat at the table it deserves. You may have to fight to get it and then keep proving over and over why you/communications belong there — but it is absolutely the right thing to do.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.