That people person may be your next boss

I'm sure that anyone who recruits is familiar with the eager-beaver letters from Edina Monsoon wannabes, whose sole concept of PR has been forged by watching reruns of Absolutely Fabulous. These letters invariably include the term 'creativity' at least three times and wax lyrical about how much the writer likes 'working with people' - a phrase that constitutes career death in PR.

And most practitioners, having read this phrase hundreds of times by the time they become CEO or head of an in-house department, would be excused for suggesting that candidates veer towards the more 'caring' professions.

But as irritating as a misunderstanding of PR can be, could recruiters be missing a trick? I ask this following last week's CIPR conference, where I moderated a highly entertaining workshop by Dennis Kelly, director of the Centre for Public Relations Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Kelly had undertaken a major research project to isolate the attributes that make up a top PR practitioner. He took as his starting point Management Today's Most Admired Companies, and analysed the behaviour of their top PROs. And guess what? They were real 'people people'.

Interpersonal skills emerged as one of the top four behaviours, including the ability to listen to, facilitate and present ideas. Other factors included boundless energy, knowledge and 'gaining permission to make a contribution' (which could also be classed as an interpersonal skill).

Not surprisingly, when asked what they spent most of their time on, internal comms was ranked at the top of the tree - in particular, internal comms with the CEO. Gaining the trust of the CEO and then having sufficient interpersonal skills to be challenging (without getting fired) were a prerequisite. And what is true for the private sector is equally so for the public, where the ability to gain confidence is even harder and more crucial, according to Kelly's recent research into NHS comms.

Granted, there are light years between thinking you want to work in PR because you made lots of friends at college, and managing to get buy-in from the executive board of a major brand. But it is significant that the behaviours identified by Kelly are uncannily similar to those usually quoted as the attributes required of business leaders.

It's a fact worth remembering as you consign the next missive you receive from a people person to the bin.

Mind you, during the research 'creativity' didn't even register on the radar.

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