To really succeed in the field of internal communications, there are some broad and wide-ranging skills that are pretty important. Some would even argue that some of these skills sit at opposite ends of the spectrum and are, therefore, rarely found together in one person. Strategic and creative? A wordsmith and a graphic designer? I guess that explains the rise of the communications agency, where individual members each bring their own specialities and strengths to create an all-conquering team.
For most comms roles, you do not need to be world-class in every platform in the Adobe creative suite, be able to build an intranet from scratch, possess a vocabulary to shame Stephen Fry and the strategizing skills to rival Alexander the Great. But it is essential to possess a decent combination of technical, creative, interpersonal, and strategic skills.
Here are 12 skills that we think can really help a communicator to success:
Excellent written and verbal communication: It almost goes without saying that strong written and verbal communication skills are crucial for conveying information effectively, drafting engaging content, and fostering clear and concise messaging. Wording and tone of voice always need careful consideration, but there may be time pressures when it comes to crafting some comms, so robust language skills really come into their own when there isn’t time to go through multiple layers of copywrite support (or when that doesn’t exist) or to find the right questions to ask your new AI chum.
Careful and active listening: Active listening is a crucial skill for internal communicators. It involves understanding employee concerns, feedback, and ideas, and responding with empathy. Active listening helps in fostering a culture of open communication and addressing employee needs. If we are communicating on behalf of someone else (such as a senior leader), it’s vital that we fully understand what they are trying to say, achieve, or have people feel. If we don’t listen carefully right from the very start, we may well get it wrong.
Interpersonal and relationship-building skills: Linked to the above, building relationships and establishing robust rapport with stakeholders, employees, and colleagues is essential. Strong interpersonal skills help in understanding their needs, collaborating effectively, and building trust. You need the people for whom you are communicating to trust you, understand you, and be honest and transparent with you. You need them to want to work with you on an ongoing basis.
Empathy: Good communicators take the time to really understand their target audiences, and how what is to be communicated might make them feel. It also helps to understand the leaders for whom you are communicating, to appreciate their perspectives, priorities, reasons, and agendas.
Strategic thinking: Internal communicators need to think strategically and align their efforts with organisational goals. They should understand the broader context, identify opportunities, and develop communication strategies that drive employee engagement and support business objectives. They should be able to balance individual campaign priorities with overarching business purpose, vision and values.
Change management: Internal communicators often play a critical role in change initiatives within organisations. Having a solid understanding of change management principles and the ability to navigate and communicate change effectively can be highly valuable. Some large or significant changes will require their own comms strategy to keep everyone up to date with what they need to know all that is happening. The extra effort required to create one can reap huge dividends in maintaining morale, smoothing the flow, and keeping your most vital asset, your people, on side.
Digital and multimedia literacy: A good understanding of digital communication tools and platforms is essential in the modern workplace. Familiarity with various digital channels, multimedia content creation, and data analytics helps successful internal communicators deliver messages in engaging and impactful ways. There are many platforms, and the tech is changing all the time. For most roles, you certainly don’t need to be fluent in all of them, but a knowledge of the main players and a mastery of whatever is used where you work is key.
Content creation and storytelling: Great internal communicators have a flair for creating compelling content and storytelling. They should be able to craft messages that resonate with employees, capture attention, and communicate key information effectively. For some communicators, this can extend to image or graphic creation, design work, or even basic video creation and editing – all with a robust understanding of the company’s brand identity and how to stay within those guidelines.
Solutions-oriented: Strong project management skills and a focus on solutions and outcomes are beneficial for planning and executing internal communication initiatives. Being able to manage timelines, resources, and stakeholders effectively ensures that communication projects are delivered successfully.
Data measurement and analysis: Internal communicators should be comfortable with collecting and interpreting data. This includes analysing employee engagement surveys, monitoring communication metrics, and using insights to optimise communication strategies. If you don’t know what’s landing and what’s not, then you can’t improve your offering.
Flexibility and adaptability: The ability to adapt to changing circumstances, handle ambiguity, and adjust communication approaches accordingly is crucial. Internal communicators should be flexible in their thinking and adaptable to evolving organisational needs. Sometimes, the detail behind the reasons for the comms themselves will be changing, requiring a changing approach. Other times, a whole new issue or subject will arise and suddenly take priority.
Confidence and courage: Sometimes, communicators need to challenge or push back against senior leaders or try to (gently) steer them in a different direction. Frequently, they will need to make creative suggestions or recommendations that may otherwise not be on a team’s radar. Courage (of convictions), confidence, and a cool self-assuredness can go a long way in these circumstances. These qualities can’t really be taught or learned, but they will grow with time.
While these skills are important for success in internal communications, it's important to note that the practice is dynamic and continuously evolving. Professionals should always stay up to date with industry trends, new tools, and emerging best practices to stay ahead in this fascinating, rewarding, creative but ever-changing field.