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PR leadership report cardPR leadership seems stuck in mediocrity. Perhaps more disturbing, gaps between men’s and women’s perceptions of their organizations and PR leadership quality have increased. Both rate PR leadership as undistinguished.

Compared to men, women in public relations are less engaged, less satisfied with their jobs, less confident in their work cultures, less trusting of their organizations and more critical of top leaders. That’s the conclusion of the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations based at the University of Alabama.

The Plank Center’s Report Card on Public Relations Leaders gives PR leadership passing but mediocre grades in five areas: organizational culture, quality of leadership performance, trust in the organization, work engagement and job satisfaction. Performance changed little since 2017, but scores for job engagement, trust and job satisfaction dropped slightly.  PR leaders received an overall grade of “C+” this year. That’s similar to the center’s previous studies.

Urgency to Act

“As it stands with the Report Card 2019, leadership in the field remains pretty average; improvement seems elusive. The urgency to act is now,” the Plank Center states in its news release.

The survey reveals wide gaps between views PR leaders and their employees. PR leaders give themselves an A- for leadership performance; their employees give then a C+.  The center recommends reducing that gap through:

  • increased power sharing or leader empowering behaviors,
  • strengthened two-way communication and
  • enhanced interpersonal skills in team work, such as conflict management, active listening and change management. “Leaders at all levels can benefit from relying less on the transmission mode and more on the reception mode when communicating with employees,” the center concludes.

The center recommends a “culture of communication” where:

  • open communication systems that allow information and best practices to widely shared,
  • listening is valorized,
  • two-way and multiple channels are the norm,
  • employees feel free to speak up without fear of retribution,
  • decision-making is widely shared in teams and work units, and
  • leaders support and value communication.

The consistently average grades and the sharp and growing differences among professionals revealed in the survey beg the question of whether improving leadership in the field is a priority. Numerous blogs, articles and research studies suggest it is important and needed.

“Talking about needed changes and improvements in leadership won’t accomplish the change. We need more leaders who live and model the changes,” says Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, and a co-sponsor of the study.

Or — the PR profession needs to elevate more capable men and women to positions of leadership.

Bottom Line: While PR leaders typically rate themselves highly, their employees give them middling grades, research finds. In addition, women feel less satisfied and engaged with their work and more critical of their work cultures and leadership. Corporate leaders dedicated to two-way communications and shared decision making can improve the situation.