The 4 lines of sight every head of communications must have


In the age of permanent white water, communications leaders are relied upon to provide steady navigation. Just as a ship’s captain needs a clear view of the horizon to identify the path forward and avoid hidden dangers, so too heads of communications require distinct lines of sight to lead their functions effectively.

1. Foresight

Foresight is the ability to strategically look ahead to anticipate emerging changes, issues, opportunities and threats. The most skilled communications leaders I’ve had the opportunity to watch in action seem to have developed a sixth sense and a unique ability to see around corners. This is no accident: it’s the product of years of studying their audience and issue environment, the intellectual humility to perceive dynamics from a variety of lenses and the creativity to correctly identify patterns that are often imperceptible to the untrained eye. 

2. Oversight

Heads of communications must cultivate a fiduciary lens to their functional leadership. Ultimately, their organizations, employees and even audiences rely on their duty to prioritize their function’s interest above their own. 

The oversight requirement includes stewardship of financial and human resources, reputation and the enterprise’s interests, but it’s much more than that too. Delivering effective oversight is also about an ethical obligation to protect truth, trust and integrity. A relatively new dimension to the communications leader’s oversight role has emerged due to the compounding effect of our current attention economy and the pernicious threat of misinformation. Part of being an effective communications leader today is about being a steward of audiences’ finite and fleeting attention. (For more on this, it’s worth reading IABC’s Code of Ethics for Professional Communicators.)

3. Hindsight

Hindsight is about having the sturdiness and commitment to continuous improvement required to deliberately reflect and learn from the past. In my experience, this is the critical line of sight that is most often missing from heads of communications. 

The instinct, discipline and intestinal fortitude necessary to empirically assess what has worked, what hasn’t and why is imperative. This commitment to evaluation, evidence-informed decision making and improvement is not a solitary exercise – it’s one of leadership and generosity in helping teams and organizations learn and get better.

4. Insight

Insight is what differentiates a good from a great communications leader. It’s the sparkle that comes from deep analysis, reflective research, connected consultation and sense making. Developing a practice of cultivating insight takes time, and it also takes guts to offer a deliberate challenge function when required. 

A communications leader’s insight can have a transformational impact on a team’s performance, often in the critical areas of strengthening strategic alignment, finding opportunities for “symphonic thinking” or integration and turning risks into opportunities.


To dig deeper into what it takes to be a transformational communications leader, check out the Leadership Development Program for Communicators to see if it’s right for you.

Join us for a free teaser webinar on the theme of WTF Is Going On? hosted by the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute on April 9th.


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