5 Tips for Getting Invited to the Executive Leadership Table

Written by Noelle Hawton, senior consultant, @nhawton

Most corporate communications leaders want a seat at the executive leadership table. Doing so allows the organization’s decisions to be viewed through the filter of corporate positioning and reputation. As with anything, however, there are pros and cons inherent in having the function report directly to the company’s CEO.

According to a recently released Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study, those who do report to the CEO have some nice perks:

  • Bigger Bucks: Communications budgets for functions that report directly to the CEO (29% of respondents) are twice the size of communications budgets that report in through HR.
  • Balanced Efforts: Those who report to HR (12% of respondents) say they typically focus most on internal communications, and those who report to marketing (20% of respondents) tend to focus primarily on external audiences. Only those corporate communications professionals who report directly to the CEO find a balance between the two.
  • Greater Value: The communications professionals who report to their CEOs say their function is more valued by the entire organization and they have more credibility.

Of course, there’s also is a down side (if that’s how you choose to view it). Respondents who report to the CEO cited more accountability and scrutiny, as well as having the CEO’s agenda dictate all activities.

How to make a case for a seat at the table

Making the case for a change in reporting structure isn’t easy (at best) and can be a bit of a land mine to navigate. Here are 5 tips for getting there:

  1. Ask to be included in executive leadership meetings and bring your most strategic A-game. Offer opinions and counsel about large-picture topics and how various scenarios will affect key stakeholders.
  2. Demonstrate curiosity, intellect and value. Spend your off-hours reading about best practices in your industry and others, and send along articles paired with your insight regarding salient points to members of the executive team.
  3. Serve as the expert. Position yourself as an expert and coach by having candid conversations with each executive about their comfort with making presentations and delivering consistent messages to employees and external stakeholders. Doing so will allow you to give real-time feedback, both positive and negative, and will help the team see the value of a strong communications performance and your role in it.
  4. Build relationships and cultivate sponsors. When working with members of the executive leadership team, including the CEO, don’t be shy about sharing your goal of serving as a strategic peer. Ask for specific feedback from each about the role communications plays in the organization and how they think it could be more effectively and strategically deployed.
  5. Prioritize. We often hear that our clients’ executive leadership thinks the communications function is tactical and not strategic. Avoid this fate by setting strategic priorities for the communications team and only execute against those. Resources spent on work that doesn’t support the organization’s strategic objectives should be scrutinized and possibly eliminated.

Does your communications function report directly to the CEO? If so, does your experience mirror the CEB study results? Tell us about it.

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