You Must Be in the Room Where It Happens

39668350535_0ac8c2b774_o-2018_04_16-11_18_18-utc.jpgThe Room Where It Happens, a song from the highly acclaimed Broadway musical Hamilton, describes the situation of  wanting to be a “player” to influence the decisions and actions that the leaders of our country made back in the era of 1776.

That sentiment is still relevant today in our own professional lives. To make a worthwhile impact, you must be in the room when key decisions are made. (As an aside, if you can ever find a way to see this show, you will be so glad you did—even when ticket prices rival the cost of the NSPRA Seminar.)

 

How to Have a Seat in Your School District’s Cabinet?

New NSPRA members often ask me and other vets how to gain access to their district’s cabinet.  When I started out in this profession, I was the coordinator of school community relations for a medium-sized district and I was not a member of the cabinet. Within 10 months though, I started attending the meetings and by Year 2, I became a cabinet member.

My decades of experience in school public relations taught me a few things I’d like to share. Although every district and superintendent have differences, many of these tips may help you.

You Must Work to Gain an Admission Ticket to the Room Where It Happens

  • Remember that you have to earn your way into a cabinet position. It’s not an entitlement. You have to earn your stripes by providing solid counsel to your superintendent and cabinet members. Make sure you do that as best as you can in a proactive approach so you start building a credible track record in advising.
  • Build that credibility by writing brief “thought joggers” for your boss dealing with anticipated situations where intervention and increased communication can help avoid controversial miscues in the future.
  • It helps to report directly to the superintendent. If you do not, work with influential cabinet members “who get it” when it comes to understanding the total impact of your communication function. Try to have that person pave the way with your superintendent. Use the rationale that you can be much better in developing messages if you understand fully why and how decisions are made. Otherwise, a void exists and that lack of connection makes your job harder. Your district is at a higher risk when you are not aware of the big picture.
  • Offer to audit each meeting and craft a succinct summary of every meeting in a grid-like format that notes actions taken, next steps, and who does what. (I started this practice to gain entry and by my second meeting, cabinet colleagues started asking, ”Rich, how do you see this playing out in our community?”
  • For many years, I’ve said, “Our best school PR pros have one foot in the schools and one foot in the community, and the stretch marks to prove it.” Where possible, prove that maxim is true by how you practice our profession in your school community. Know the pulse of your community.
  • Read Jim Lukaszewski’s Why Should the Boss Listen to You? The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor. It’s one of the best bits of advice on this topic. You can buy it through NSPRA here.

 

The Key Is to Build a Positive Relationship

One of the keys to making all this work is your relationship with your superintendent of schools and your superintendent’s perception of the value you add to your district’s leadership.

If you are not a cabinet member, seek your superintendent’s advice about what steps you must take to become one. Together, measure progress to see what still needs to be done to make it happen.

Measure progress and expectations and you will most likely clear your path to be in room where it happens.

richs-signature-blue2

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive  Director

 

Photo by Jim Cummings, APR, Glendale Elementary School District

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