Blog: The art of pushing back

I know this is something we all know we can do but how many of us practice this? How many times do you say “no” or “we don’t have the capacity for this?”.

I constantly find myself saying “we’ll see what we can do” or “I’ll see who in the team can pick this up” (knowing no one can so it’s likely it will be me!).

Well, it’s time to learn the art of pushing back.   

Avoid the traps

During my time as a Future Leader on the 2021 cohort, we went to Whitehall for the day and Claire Pimm, Director of National Resilience Communications at Cabinet Office, mentioned that comms can’t fix poor policy, and this has stayed with me since. If you haven’t been provided with a clear and concise project plan, how can you create an effective communications plan?

This is a trap a lot of us communicators find ourselves in, and we convince ourselves that – “I can fix this” or “I know they won’t provide me with anything better so I might as well…”

No! Push back.

Ask for a better project plan as this will a) save time for everyone and b) provide better outcomes for the service area, the local authority and most importantly residents.

How do we avoid the traps and push back?

  1. Provide concrete examples for the service area to demonstrate why you need a better project plan – “if you can provide a timeline, I can potentially link these to external hooks which could provide greater reach for the campaign”.
  2. Research – a good friend of mine told me “there’s nothing new under the sun”. Someone’s most probably done something similar somewhere, so use this as an example to show the service area what they could possibly achieve if they provided a better plan.

Set boundaries

This was the hardest for me to practice as I enjoy being busy (most times) but setting boundaries is where I saw the quickest results.  

Boundary noun

  • a real or imagined line that marks the limits or edges of something and separates it from other things or places; a dividing line (boundary noun – Definition, pictures, pronunciation and usage notes | Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary at, 2022)

When I saw this definition, it empowered me to set boundaries as an art of pushing back because if no one knows the limits (capacity of you and your team), how do you expect them not to ask for more?

How do we set these limits and push back?

  1. Create a clear comms grid that outlines all the campaigns and projects the team will be working on over the year, or even the quarter, and share this with senior leaders to agree. It’s like having a written agreement which will make it easier to set limits and push back on any additional work that wasn’t planned. It also visually demonstrates your team’s workload.

Tip: Share a fortnightly report with politicians, senior leaders and key staff members that provides an update and outcomes of the campaigns and/or projects the team are working on. This will also help to build you and your teams’ credibility.

Be a good leader

I’ve worked in quite a few public sector comms teams and have seen managers, head of services or directors agreeing on extra workload without consulting the anyone in the team. This can be for many reasons:

  1. They’re new and want to prove themselves
  2. They’re under pressure and need the team to perform better
  3. They may be bored and want to work on something new

All these reasons are valid, but you should still push back. A good leader pushes back as it shows that you respect the time, workload, and effort of your team.

Remember, staff tend to leave managers not organisations!

Pushing back isn’t easy but I believe that pushing back will make you better at what you do, and this has been true for me. Working as a COVID comms lead for 15 months caused me to burnout because I never pushed back. So, I want to remind you today to be honest with yourself and learn the art of pushing back, it’s worth it!

Veronica Beserve is part of the Future Leaders 2021 cohort. She currently works as Senior Communications Manager at Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.



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