Head of external affairs and insight.
Starting salary/salary band for the job?
Grade 6 salary band is £61,867-£74,972.
What qualifications do you need?
I studied journalism and political science and have had further formal training in leadership and management. I’ve found this incredibly useful for this role. Ultimately, we want talented and dynamic leaders who can shape how we communicate with the public and develop the profession, so I wouldn’t let a missing formal qualification hold you back.
What level of experience do you need?
My experience working with ministers on a daily basis, negotiating with key VIPs across government departments and developing large teams has been fantastic experience to prepare me for this role.
It’s an exciting time for external affairs as a government communications specialism, which is replacing what has been called stakeholder engagement in the past. We’re seeing people come through with a range of backgrounds, including public affairs, press office, media and marketing. Our aim is to enhance how we listen and work with the range of organisations that represent the public, particularly in a future where consumers are likely to be more empowered and fragmented, and the speed of technological innovation accelerates exponentially.
Is previous experience in a public sector comms role necessary/useful?
Of course it’s useful, but not always necessary. Developing a team that has public- and private-sector experience has been critical to building our external affairs team. Having diversity of experience and background has been useful to encourage new ways of thinking, and to challenge received wisdom about how things should be done – which, in my view, should always be encouraged. As the GCS Executive Director Alex Aiken made clear in his PRWeek article earlier this year, enhancing two-way communications is a top challenge for our profession. This can only be met if our teams are willing to adapt, to listen, to bring in new ideas and be confident about providing well-rounded advice – no matter how uncomfortable – to colleagues. I would also say that common sense, good judgement, curiosity and a dose of passion are critical qualities to thrive in these roles. A gift for conversation wouldn’t go amiss either.
What are the main day-to-day challenges?
It’s a busy team and there’s a real buzz in the office. We work very closely with our press office and our ministerial teams. It makes for exciting and fascinating work. My challenge is balancing the different priorities for the team. This means making sure we deliver on the opportunities that are strategically important for government, while never losing sight of the issues that are most important to our key contacts and external organisations. We also face the constant challenge that readers will recognise to stay current with personal development. For me, it’s critical that we make sure our teams can prioritise having the time and space to develop themselves.
What is the best part of the job?
Knowing that we’ve made a difference and built connections between organisations and into government on new policy areas. For example, our pensions reforms can be a bit daunting for the uninitiated, but knowing about them is really important to a secure retirement. So we’ve been talking with a range of new organisations, which aren’t part of the pensions industry, about what the reforms might mean for their members and networks. And seeing how much my team members care about the impact they have – whether that’s providing advice on handling government announcements or learning something new in a challenging conversation with one of our stakeholders, that they’ll then bring back to our organisation.
What is the most unusual fact you know as a result of this job?
It’s not a fact as such, but this job has given me an interesting insight into the myriad ways that organisations organise themselves internally, the impact that has on individuals’ and teams’ motivations, and corresponding results. I find this fascinating as I’m interested in organisational behaviour and recent developments that apply neuroscience to leadership thinking.
If you get an interview, do say…
Show your curiosity – being interested and passionate are key to enjoying the job, and developing a team that does so too.
If you get an interview, don’t say–
You don’t like networking.
If you’re good at this job you might also be well-suited to…
Joining a government external affairs team can take you anywhere.
Please note: Interviewees for 'So, you want my job' are not leaving their current role
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