A few thoughts on being a trusted adviser


A lot of PR/Comms people I speak with say they want to be in the position where their boss (if in house) or client (if consultants) treat them as a trusted adviser.

What makes some a trusted adviser can vary enormously depending on the nature, scale and complexity of the organisation, the nationalities of the organisation itself and the people in it, the type of advice being given, the reasons for needing it, and above all the chemistry of the adviser and the advised.

I’ve found over the years that there have been some commonalities though and this is a quick list of those…

  1. A trusted adviser is someone who earns the trust through their actions, not somebody who expects to have it because of their job. Seats at the top table or open doors to the CEOs office are earned by performance. Very few people can get into either “on a promise.”
  2. Understanding the organisation, its people and culture are key. Usually advisers are needed to bring the outside perspective into the organisation, but this only works when the adviser appreciates how things work from the inside-out.
  3. A trusted adviser understand the organisation’s purpose – what it is there for and why it does what it does. This often means understanding how money is made and what makes money (and what doesn’t). It’s surprising how many people who come from business professional services, legal and PR backgrounds think of their field of expertise as being an end in itself and not just a means to an end.
  4. A trusted adviser needs to be able to “speak truth unto power” and be prepared to take the consequences. This might mean getting fired. People don’t always appreciate what is good for them!
  5. A trusted adviser puts their employer’s/client’s interests before their own. As an employer or client I expect a trusted adviser to put my interests first, second and third.
  6. Passion for and conviction in courses of action recommended are essential. Communication is largely about belief, going beyond rational engagement to make an emotional connection. Particularly for a PR trusted adviser, it is key that there is a big streak of the evangelical in an adviser.
  7. A trusted adviser gives their advice in confidence and ideally invisibly. The greatest value an adviser can have to a boss, in house or consultancy, is not to be seen. As a client I stole every idea a consultant gave me and made it my own. That’s what I paid consultants for. So a trusted adviser needs not to be precious about their IP.
  8. A trusted adviser serves the interests of their paymaster without question. Being “one of us” is vital to earning trust. The more senior a person is in an organisation the fewer friends they have. Their colleagues consist of people who they have passed over or people who want their job. Nobody wants them to succeed. A trusted adviser can be a rare friend because they must never “have skin in the game.”
  9. A trusted adviser sees, thinks, and acts in the longterm interest. Pretty much everybody in leadership teams thinks only about today, or possibly tomorrow, but certainly no further ahead. A trusted adviser should be able step back from immediate concerns and give their boss context and perspective.
  10. A trusted adviser must be trustworthy (sounds obvious I suppose!). Integrity is everything. so looking for that degree of honesty in an adviser is essential.

The Crane brothers?

Oh well just because the Shrink isn’t a bad model for any trusted adviser. Some of my most valuable work has been to act as the confidant and even quack-therapist to my bosses and clients.

I’ve lost count of the number of both who have said to me – “you are the only person who understands me!”

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