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Navigating change as a communications leader

By Natasha Calder, LGcomms Future Leader, Greater Manchester Combined Authority  

Early in my career, someone once said to me, “the only constant in public sector is change”, and that phrase is one that stuck with me ever since.

Over my near-decade long career in local government communications, I’ve come to realise that it’s a pretty spot-on summary.

This, coupled with the fact that 2024 has the potential to really shift the political space, it’s no wonder that navigating change, being resilient to it and supporting teams through it is a strong theme throughout this year’s Future Leaders programme.

So, how do we navigate this as communications professionals? We’re the people that organisations (and the public) look to for stability during uncertainty – we saw this during the thick of Covid-19 – but we’re often just as affected by change as others.

A recent Future Leaders session in Birmingham with Mandy Pearse explored this through the lens of leadership.

We discussed the importance of forecasting changes in the macro environment that have the potential to impact organisations as well as Kubler Ross’ ‘change curve’, which is the personal journey individuals can take when responding to and accepting change.

Understanding stakeholders was another key theme, from mapping those with varying levels of power and influence to community engagement techniques that can help inform campaigns and programmes.

I was particularly interested in the conversations around forging positive relationships with elected members, building trust and balancing influence with ethics.

These can often take time to achieve but if not prioritised by a local government communicator, they have the potential to derail credibility and fragment teams.

Mandy’s session was brimming with ideas. It included a helpful mix of techniques I could implement straight away as well as subtle tips to take with me into future more senior roles. If there’s one quick win I could take away and share with others though, it’s this: don’t underestimate the value of visibility.

I don’t just mean as a leader of a team, but among your own senior leaders too. Too often, we are fighting the good fight about the strategic importance of communications in organisations. By showing up, we’re not only a physical reminder that we deserve a seat at the table, but we are also demonstrating a genuine interest in the organisation’s goals.

Visibility extends to knowledge too. Make it clear to your senior leaders that you’ve done your due diligence so that trust builds. Over time, these relationships become deep-rooted within an organisation and reliance on the expertise of communications professionals grows.

At its crux, leadership is a social quality placing people at its heart. Sound familiar? That’s because ‘people’ also underpin everything we deliver across local government communications.

You could say that leadership and communications is the perfect storm. Our industry understands the importance of bringing people with us on the metaphorical journey, getting audience/stakeholder support in order to succeed and building strong networks that drive toward common goals.

Maybe one day, we’ll see more of us communicators heading up organisations and who knows, it could be a 2024 Future Leader!

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