Years spent growing and winning clients, impressing senior management or holding the fort in challenging situations can provide a solid base for a senior role in communications. Yet, too often the transition from running a small team to being a consultancy head or a director of communications is brutal. Suddenly the buck stops with you. New responsibilities for pay, rations, promotions and restructuring come your way. Turning a healthy profit can be a new challenge.
What then are the skills and experiences that aspirant MDs or communications directors need to gather to make the step up to senior roles easier and more manageable?
The earlier in your career you take responsibility for leading campaigns or accounts the easier it is to recognise the unique elements that come with heading a project. You will care about the plan and how it is being implemented. You will worry about how the budget is being managed and have a strong desire to be associated with success. A steadfast approach to media relations seldom exposes you to all these experiences.
Great leaders always having one thing in common - they know their people very well. It is not good enough just to know their names or only their strengths and weakness. You need to know what makes them tick, how they are looking to grow and what new challenges they will respond well to.
Fear of the calculator, spreadsheet and financial protocols will not aid senior aspirations. You must understand numbers, how profit-and-loss accounts work and appreciate the relationships between fees, costs and margins. Excel should become a close friend.
As organisational structures have flattened senior jobs have been harder and harder to come by. Hence the need for a senior sponsor remains vital as does developing influencing skills at all levels. Being trusted and respected for your opinions and insights allows you to stand out.
Leadership will often involve having a broad perspective on a very wide range of issues. Therefore, future senior players should never forget the need to stay abreast of industry trends, embrace views of leading business commentators and be familiar with what keeps senior executives awake at night.
Head down, working hard and delivering to time and with impact are all vital. Yet, it is also important to develop a distinct style of working and to be clear about the values that govern how you work. Be sure you cultivate styles of working that appeal to the modern desire to lead in an open, authenticate and energised manner.
Success breeds success - and in many businesses the aim is always to make winning a habit. Finding ways to work with winning teams is vital.
To achieve excellence you will need to balance being brave, recognising and responding to failures, being tenacious and passionately driving team work. Polishing and perfecting these challenges often underpins a rise to high office.
No journey to finding a senior role will be easy, but preparing early, developing good skills and behaviours and the right kind of outlook will give you a better, and fighting chance.
Written by Kevin Read who as chairman at Bell Pottinger, oversees managing directors in their corporate, brand, digital, consumer and design practices
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