Leading as an Internal Communicator—The Power of Words and Connections


When the word “internal communicator” comes up, most people in the business world don’t immediately think of the word “leader.”

But internal communicators do have real opportunities to lead and influence the course of events. Some involve the confident use of the role of writer and content generator, others reflect the ability of IC pros to suggest and influence organizational agendas, and still others come from the willingness of IC pros to connect people, ideas and resources.

Leadership through writing and content development is the most obvious angle—particularly when it involves winning the battle against excessive self-censorship.

Challenging the seductive safety of excessive self-censorship is where the communicator can move from being a stenographer to being a leader.

My own default position is clear. I start by asking myself: “What would I say if I were that person, in that situation, pursuing his or her own agenda and seeking maximum odds for success?”

I don’t get everything approved on that basis, but I have never been yelled at, either for being too outrageous or too timid, in more than 20 years.

There is some navigating to do with this stance. It requires real knowledge of the involved content and where possible, empathy with the “speaker.”

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What support Communication Directors need to improve high-level impact

What what support Communication Directors need to improve their high level impact

Notes from round-table discussions held at the Communication Directors’ Forum (Part 3), 8-10 October 2014, Aurora.


Stakeholder mapping

We explored the idea of stakeholder mapping, not just for campaigns but also for your career. Stakeholder mapping is basically just a resource prioritization tool so by thinking about this for your own career, you can think about how you create webs of positive influence.

There are of course many different varieties of stakeholder map: one of my favourites is to map importance on two axes:

  • How important are they to you? Who are the key people who can help you in your job?
  • How important are you to them? Where on their radar screen are you likely to fit?

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How Communication Directors can develop partnerships with the business

How to build on this organizational knowledge to give advice and counsel to senior executives, as a peer

Notes from round-table discussions held at the Communication Directors’ Forum (Part 2), 8-10 October 2014, Aurora.


The group discussions concluded true business partners seem to have three main sets of skills:

  • 1. Technical: they know their field and know that is how they add value. This is the professional core and why people typically get hired. It is also where the highest proportion of training budgets get allocated.
  • 2. Business: they know their client’s business and the environment in which they operate.
  • 3. Consulting / advisory: they are able to deliver that knowledge in a way that creates value.

We know from the group discussions that many people who aspire to be business partners are strong on the first and not the other two.

Maybe a lot of the money spent on technical training isn’t able to be turned into business benefit because it is not balanced with sufficient investment in the other two areas. Indeed, it was an almost universal theme: most participants had received technical and skills training, a few had sought to improve their business know-how, but almost no one had received training in consulting and advisory skills. In my personal opinion, there is little value in becoming an expert if you don’t have the skills to translate that into successful outputs, working with others. Read more

Key challenges facing Communication Directors

What are key challenges facing Communication Directors, as they grow their careers from strategic advisor to business leader

Notes from round-table discussions held at the Communication Directors’ Forum (Part 1), 8-10 October 2014, Aurora.

Discussions started off with a conversation of the key challenges facing communication professionals around making an impact at the top. This often requires a different set of skills than are typically in the communication professional curriculum: these skills are around building and developing relationships, advice and coaching and business understanding. 

An emerging theme was that communicators who take time to understand and interact with the business or organization in which they operate tend to be more successful, respected and listened to by senior executives.

They make time and invest in senior executives and try to inhabit their world, and their concerns.

Ideas to help improve your business or organizational understanding

  • Site or customer visits; ad-hoc meetings with senior executives.
  • Internal stakeholder mapping: who are the people you need to influence and get ‘on side’?
  • Asking questions; in person, engaging with the business.
  • Escaping the hierarchy: as communicators it is our job to communicate. How can we do this sitting in a physical or metaphorical cubicle?
  • Providing evidence about why communications is essential and how it can impact on the business.
  • What are the promises your CEO has made and how do they translate into organizational priorities?

All of these may require and time and investment. But that seems only fair: if you want a senior executive to invest in time with you and understand your perspective, it seems logical that you could invest time in them and their perspective.

Thinking about the ‘big picture’

Communicators who understand these questions tend to operate at a more senior level than those who just play tactical roles.


  • What are the most important market segments for us?
  • What kinds of customers do we have?
  • How is the size of the market, its growth and its geographic distribution developing?


  • Who are our biggest and most important?
  • What do our customers think of the quality, service and price of what we offer?


  • Who are our biggest and most important?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • How does our market share in each market compare?


  • What are the main distribution channels for bringing products and services to customers?
  • How well do they work? How do you know?

Suppliers and partners

  • What issues are we all confronting?/
  • What trends do our suppliers and partners face?
  • What are the prospects for the availability of key resources and ideas?

Interest groups

  • Who are the key ones?
  • Which important interest groups provide opportunities? Which pose threats?
  • How should we deal with these groups?


Stephen WelchThese discussions were held under the Chatham House Rule which states that participants are free to use the information, but that neither the identification of the speaker, nor that of any other participant may be revealed.

Stephen Welch, MCIPR CMRS FRSA, Past-President of IABC UK has participated in the round-table discussions and produced the notes above.


LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/stephenwelch11
Twitter: @stephenwelch11