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5 habits needed to be the most effective Head of Corp Comms

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While the ability to communicate – and do it extremely well – ranks highly on the remit of any Head of Communications, there are several other finely honed skills and carefully cultivated qualities that make the real star performers stand out. So what are the fundamentals that the dynamic and discerning Heads of Comms focus on to become highly effective? Do you have what it takes?

1. Listening

It goes without saying that a switched-on Head of Comms will have fabulous core PR competencies, ranging from excellent storytelling abilities, handling media relations through to crisis and issues management. They will know how to align themselves and their team with business goals, be fully aware of the plans of the senior internal stakeholders and be in tune with how comms can play a role in this. In order to achieve this to optimum effect, they must be able to listen. While listening may sound like a no-brainer, there is actually more to it than meets the eye (or ear!)

As Stephen R. Covey points out in his book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ (a business book classic), we are trained to read and write and spend years learning how to speak, but what are we trained in the art of listening? Probably not. Most of us listen with an intent to reply so that we can get our own point across. Often we switch on ‘filters’, only half-listening to what is being said and sometimes switching off completely until there is a lull in the conversation, at which point we can take centre stage. The key to being a truly skilled listener, as an accomplished Head of Comms will know, is to listen with a view to understanding. When you truly understand what the other person is saying then you will be understood. A Head of Comms who listens will know what is important to the team and know how to get the very best out of them – and help them get the most out of their roles.

In our recent blog ‘Industry experts share how to secure the top job in comms’, Director of Global Communications at Grant Thornton, Campbell McIlroy, advised “Use your listening skills to understand what’s really going on in other parts of the business. When speaking with your peers in the other departments, think about what their main priorities are, and how can comms support that? Build relationships with people in your organisation who you will advocate for you and vice versa."

2. Team building

As the old saying goes, “Two heads are better than one.” Building a truly effective team is both an art and a science and it takes a special kind of leader with unique competencies and skills to do this. It does not happen by bringing together a group of talented and smart people, sticking them in the same room and leaving them to it. It’s a continuous process. A savvy Head of Comms will want to know how each member of the team thinks, what defines their strengths and capabilities, how their skills can be utilised and further developed and what is required to motivate them to excel. In successfully creating an atmosphere where the team listens to, cares for and supports each other, where they interact together genuinely, valuing their respective talents and being open to each other’s influence, they will produce far better results than they would individually.

“Make sure you build a team of true team players who are resilient and extremely competent” says Gayle Rodrigues, Communications Head for EMEA and the US at First Sentier Investors (and former Head of Corporate Communications at Mizuho International plc). Gayle also stresses that the support of and buy-in of your communications strategy from your executive or senior management team is critical. “Their understanding of the value that a communications function can bring to the business and its brand is hugely important when investing in and growing a team.”

3. Relationship building

Any Head of Comms worth their salt will be dedicated to focusing a great deal of energy into the relationship with C-suite, internal and external stakeholders, the team and the media. Sound counsel will fall on deaf ears if the Head of Comms has not established strong relationships. Influencing an internal stakeholder is far easier if the Head of Comms is well respected and trusted in the first place. Being empathetic and considerate towards others, making others feel at ease, keeping listeners engaged and remembering details from previous conversations will all go a long way towards gaining that respect and trust.

4. Passion

Showing that there is fire in your belly and a genuine hunger for success has a huge impact on business – a Head of Comms who truly loves what they do will grab the role by both hands and drive the business forward, and in doing so, will not only fuel the team’s passion but also bring about better relationships all round. The bottom line is if the Head of Comms is not passionate about the business, the team won’t be either. There has to be a true belief in the brand and a powerful desire to make strategies work.

A smart Head of Comms will also be passionate about taking the time to celebrate successes. By pushing the boat out from time to time and giving the team the chance to let off some steam and spend time with each other in a more relaxed setting, everyone can come away feeling appreciated and all the more motivated to perform even better. In a recent blog interview with Paul Davies, CEO at firstlight, we asked him to tell us his most memorable work moment. Paul said “Sorry to all my clients but it’s every Christmas offsite (we go to amazing places each year – it’s Vienna this time) when I am reminded of the talented people that we have in the business. They are phenomenal and a force to be reckoned with."

5. Charisma

When all is said and done, the stand-out Heads of Comms often have magnetic personalities that exude energy, passion and enthusiasm. They are experts in their fields, able to explain complex topics in a way that their audience understands. They are both interesting – they are wonderful storytellers with the ability to be serious or inject humour where appropriate – and interested – they want to listen to what others have to say and ask open questions to help them understand the views and feelings of others. They have the ability to judge people very accurately which makes it easy to get people on side. The savvy Head of Comms knows just when to switch on the charm – and in exactly what measure – to influence those around them and get exactly want what they want.

“Communication is the most important skill in life.”
- Stephen R Covey, author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

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