Communications is not universally regarded as a strategic function and is considered by some senior communicators to have a ‘second class’ status compared to other board-level positions. The survey sought to understand whether communications leaders believe they have parity with other senior managers, whether they feel they are adequately remunerated, and whether they have strong working relationships with their chief executives.
Parity with other senior roles
Two thirds of communicators feel they have parity with other senior staff. Respondents with associate/deputy director job title were most likely to feel that they have parity and those with a manager/head of job title were the least likely.
One senior trust communicator said: “Although I am not a director or sit on the board I feel I am taken very seriously and people respect the work that I do. I have access to the key decision makers and my guidance is listened to and valued by the board.”
Others outlined how they have had to earn the trust and confidence of their senior teams, with one communicator saying: “Yes, but within the trust there has been a limited understanding of what we do and what good looks like. This is improving, but has taken time and effort to gain the trust and confidence of the senior team.”
For those who feel they do not have parity, many commented that communications is undervalued, being seen as a “support service rather than core business”. Others commented that they are not on the same pay banding as other senior staff, or that they are not on the board/executive team.
One communicator said: “The historical view of communications has been as a support service; not core business. This is changing, but communications is still viewed (by some) as an add-on rather than integral part of the way the trust is run.” Another commented: “I have credibility and leadership without authority but although considered a senior leader I don't attend the trust management team. I keep abreast of other developments and influence through other means but bizarre that I am not included at this meeting, particularly as I receive tasks from it.”
In some trusts departing directors and/or heads of communications have not been replaced in recent months due to budget constraints, with one respondent commenting: “The communications team is viewed as an operational team, there to carry out duties rather than provide expertise on specific issues. It has become a functional role since our head of communications left and was not replaced. Although the trust is beginning to acknowledge the senior role that comms should have within the organisation it is a slow culture change at the moment.”
Two thirds of communicators feel adequately remunerated for their role but there is a difference in outlook depending on the seniority of the communicator. Those with a ‘director’ job title were most likely to feel adequately remunerated but those with a ‘manager’ and/or ‘head of’ job title were least likely.
One senior communicator, on a very senior manager (VSM) salary, said: “As a board member I am expected to perform a wider executive role across the trust, not just leading on communications. The fact that I am VSM and have parity with fellow directors means I am treated as an equal.”
Communicators who do not feel adequately remunerated raised concerns about out-of-hours working not being reflected. They reported that small or reducing staff numbers meant their role had expanded but that was not reflected in their pay or their banding. One said: “Communications has the lowest banded head of service in all of our corporate support services,” while another echoed these concerns: “While I sit at board and executive team, and hold the same levels of responsibility/accountability, I am not even paid the equivalent of Board members' deputies.”
Some communicators pointed to a perceived lack of consistency in how they are remunerated compared to their peers working in other trusts. One said: “All the heads of communications in neighbouring NHS organisations are on higher bandings than I am yet our trust has considerably more reputational issues and has a larger more complex workforce. My role is a lot more pressurised and high profile than theirs.”
Only 44% of respondents said they reported into their trust’s chief executive, with senior communicators reporting into a range of other positions. But most were generally positive about the quality of relationship with their chief executive. Many referred to having daily interaction and an ‘open door’ policy enabling them to get things resolved quickly.
One communicator said: “The relationship and access is good despite not directly reporting to the chief executive. Line management by current director [corporate affairs director] provides additional benefits.” Another said: “I have a good relationship with our chief executive. The chief executive has an open door policy and is very supportive of department. Very quick response to enquiries, is media trained, and is pro-active with staff engagement.”
However, others said they had to work hard to access the chief executive at times and that not having a formal line reporting arrangement in place did complicate matters:
“I have a good relationship with chief executive and other execs. Although I report to director of HR, we have matrix working where I work to and for other execs, including chief executive. However, because I do not attend exec meetings etc, I often find myself finding out about issues/initiatives third hand with limited time to influence or recommend comms handling.”