I'm a comms chief who became the CEO and you can do it, too

For nearly twenty years, I worked steadily as a communications professional and even though I was a charity comms director, I never gave becoming a chief executive a second thought. Then, I became the CEO. By accident.

Michelle Doyle Wildman became CEO by accident, but you can do it on purpose
Michelle Doyle Wildman became CEO by accident, but you can do it on purpose

My brilliant boss (thankfully now on the road to recovery) was taken seriously ill, so I stepped up to be the acting CEO.

Two years on: this experience has been a ride and probably career-defining.

I realise now that before this happened, although confident and recognised in my field, I had limiting beliefs about my chances of taking the top job.

I now feel being a communications professional furnishes you with much of what you need to lead a modern organisation:

Leadership is all about values now

A recent CIPR conference on accountable leadership and social purpose focussed on the public’s desire to engage with a cause or lifestyle rather than products. The Institute of Leadership & Management has also produced a charity leadership toolkit with sections on being visionary, collaborative and authentic (aka, what should be in every good communication strategy). In short, we get this.

Being a face and a name

Not all CEOs are spokespersons, but being accountable to your public is more important than ever. Although getting used to being the one in front of the camera may take some adjustment, as communicators we understand the need to stay on message and tell stories to get cut-through. Our willingness to take an ethical and authentic stance makes us excellent figureheads for our organisations, too.

Digital savviness

Calls for digital leadership are everywhere, but not all CEOs are digital leaders. Communicators clearly have the edge here (while understanding this is not the panacea for all the challenges an organisation will face). We also know how to tweet!

Making great decisions

Apart from being skilled jugglers of money, resources and time, communicators strive to make evidence-led decisions, evaluate and learn. We ask the hard questions to get to the truth, we prepare and execute detailed plans, and we only dine out on positive results. This rigour is essential as a CEO and sets up the conditions for continuous improvement.

Putting people at the centre

For me, leadership is about being present for your staff, customers and stakeholders. Communicators fair well here, too, as expert listeners with the ability to see things from the perspective of others – so your team can achieve more for those you serve.

Although more PR-savvy people are now leading organisations, there are still pockets of prejudice out there.

I hope in recognising the skills you offer, you will be confident to sell yourself, tackle this head-on and go for the top job.

The icing on the cake? Being the CEO has made me a much better communicator, too. So, what’s stopping you from throwing your brilliant hat in the ring?

Michelle Doyle Wildman is the acting CEO of education charity Parentkind

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