Sink or Swim: On The Challenges of Becoming a PR Manager

Over the course of my career, I’ve come across the full spectrum of managers. The leadership style of your managers – and the one that you ultimately settle on yourself – seeps into everything. While leadership is partly a factor of personality and your past experiences, good managers push themselves to learn and evolve. As I was sitting at my daughter’s swim lesson this weekend, I started thinking about how her teacher uses many of the same approaches of a good public relations manager:

  • Have patience, but keep it challenging. Everyone has a different pace of learning – some dive into new things full throttle without thinking about the risks; others take the slow and cautious approach. As a manager, it’s your job to understand the different work styles of individuals and how to get the best out of them. There are a number of different methods for motivating people – leadership expert John Baldoni outlines four techniques here. There is no single right way; it’s a process that requires patience in accepting that you’ll get things wrong sometimes and so will others, but that’s part of the learning process. These hurdles can help you figure out the comfort zone line, and find the best method for encouraging people to push past it.
  • Get your hair wet sometimes. I swore it wouldn’t happen, but I’m starting to get averse to getting my hair wet in the pool…exactly what I used to poke fun at my mom about. But, to encourage your young child to learn to swim and go underwater, one must lead by example – and that means getting soaked from head to toe in hopes that she’ll gain the confidence to do it alongside me soon. You can apply the same theory to PR. Being too hands-off as a manager can be dangerous, but it’s not feasible for a manager to get too into the weeds on a daily basis either.  So, it’s best to pick your spots. When faced with a major deliverable or the pressure is on for results, call for “all hands on deck” and take on some of the dirty work yourself. That simple act can stress the importance of teamwork, emphasize the care and diligence some work requires, and perhaps even give you a fresh perspective on the situation.
  • Provide good direction, but know when to let go. While it’s good to pitch in sometimes, you also don’t want to be a micro-manager or hoard work. That doesn’t do any good for you or your team. It’s great to provide strategic direction, advice and offer historical perspective; but for others to succeed and feel a sense of ownership, they must be able to provide input into the process as well. You can’t teach a person to swim by having them ride on your back the whole time. Be clear about what you expect from others and what they can expect from you. This article offers a good process to help you think about how to get involved without micromanaging.
  • Balance the serious and fun. I think it’s extremely important that my daughter learns how to swim, but I want her to love the water and tried to find an instructor that wasn’t going to be overly rigid. Similarly, most people at our firm work hard and there are plenty of serious moments, but given how much time and energy we all spend at work, it’s important to inject some personality and fun into the process. I’m not saying you have to deliver sweets to your team every morning (although, note:  that can’t hurt) or become best buds with everyone you work with, but it helps to seek out everyone’s lighter side. At the end of the day, it’s about relationships. Maybe it’s bonding over a funny story about a past work experience, or perhaps it’s just getting to know the other person better over an informal cup of coffee. Mixing the fun and serious can help keep everyone motivated and avoid burn out.

I try to live by many of these lessons, but continue to grow and learn from everyone around me every day. Whether you are managing a single person on a small project or directing a large team or practice area, similar lessons apply. The key to success is stopping to deliberately think about and seek feedback on your management skills – look for opportunities to practice and keep pushing yourself to evolve.

What other points would you add to being a successful PR manager? 

Photo courtesy of Hani Amir on Flickr

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Twitter: @kshe
Kellie Sheehan