High Stakes

10 Qualities That Make A Great Chief Communications Officer Great

In my 25+ years in the healthcare industry I’ve had the privilege of working with some fantastic communications and marketing leaders, and I’ve learned a lot just by being around them. Truthfully, I’ve also worked with some not-so-great marcom leaders, too, and I’ve learned even more from them.

So, when a client (and friend) asked my opinion about what qualities make a great chief communications officer, I took some time to think about it.

  1. They surround themselves with great people and let them do their jobs. They hold them accountable and have their backs. Effective generals can only do their jobs if they have excellent lieutenants who, in turn, have excellent sergeants.
  2. They carve out time to think. Great chiefs don’t spend time in the weeds; they soar in the clouds. And they are purposeful about finding the time to make that happen.
  3. They don’t just talk operations; they actually understand it. They know how hospitals run. They know the complicated payment models. They know the inner workings of the hospital ecosystem.
  4. They focus on what makes the most impact. They know they don’t have the resources or energy to feed every cute, fuzzy bunny that comes along. They eliminate the “nice to do’s” and focus on the “must do’s” that will contribute the most to the business goals of their organization. Most importantly, they’re able to articulate why this service line gets attention from marketing while this one gets zippo.
  5. They never stop learning. The way healthcare and communications is changing, they know if they’re not learning, they’ll quickly become obsolete.
  6. They have trusted relationships with senior leaders. Although many chief communications officers still have an uphill climb to have a regular seat at the executive leadership table, they are still confidants and sounding boards for them. They serve as the voice of the patient.
  7. They take on new initiatives, even when (maybe especially when) they are unrelated to communications and marketing.
  8. They pick their battles. People become deaf to the perpetual “devil’s advocate.” But they know to speak up when it matters. And to fight tooth and nail when it really matters.
  9. They share successes. Great leaders praise the work of their teams and make sure executive leaders understand the value of communications and marketing. (Why is this so hard for women, especially?)
  10. They have a peer network. No one has all the answers. True leaders develop a group of peers they can call on when they’re stuck or when they just need a willing ear.


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