professional development for communications directors



Do you recognize any of these scenarios?

  • Your boss is a perfectionist which makes him nitpicky and hypercritical of your work because he believes it reflects poorly on him if it is not just so.
  • Even though your boss knows you can do the work, she still thinks she can do it better, therefore she won’t delegate it to you. But because she is so busy, she never actually does the work.
  • Your boss says social media is your job, but wants to approve the wording of most posts in advance. Her tweaks seem minor to you, but major to her.

In all cases, your competence is being questioned.

Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback, co-authors of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, break down competence into three elements:  technical knowledge, operational knowledge, and political knowledge. While their advice is directed at managers working with staff, it works in reverse too. You can use their frameworks to build trust with your managers as well as your coworkers.

Hill and Lineback say that technical knowledge is what you need to know about the substance of your work.  This applies to both the mission of your organization and to your work as a communications professional.

On the mission side, you don’t need the same level of expertise as your program staff. But you do need to have a good grasp on the mission of your organization and its programs and services. That means being able to accurately describe the programs. You should understand key terminology and use it correctly in your communications.

On the communications side, however, you are expected to be the expert. For example, you should know how to manage an editorial calendar, how to create compelling content, and how to use communications technology like your email service provider and social media platforms.

Operational knowledge, say Hill and Lineback, is the practical knowledge of how the work gets done within your organization. It’s the difference between knowing something in theory (technical knowledge) and being able to actually get it done at work.

For communications staff, operational knowledge includes understanding the programmatic life of your organization and the opportunities and constraints involved in delivering programs and services.

It also includes understanding how to create the most efficient and effective workflows in your organization to get communications content created and published.

Finally, Hill and Lineback talk about political competence as the ability to exercise influence effectively. This is largely about your ability to understand interpersonal relationships and motivations of others.

Take these steps to build trust in your competence:

  • Take control of your own professional development. Figure out what you need to know and find a way to learn it.
  • Be prepared to explain yourself. Do so without being defensive.
  • Ask good questions. Don’t pretend to understand when you don’t.
  • Don’t undermine others or make them look bad. You may not fully understand the politics they are dealing with.
  • Involve others in your work. Show them how you do it – carry that editorial calendar around with you!

What other tips do you have for demonstrating your competence on the job? Share in the comments. 

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