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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Working in the public relations industry for 30 years has given me the opportunity to observe and counsel a number of senior executives and potential leaders. At one time or another they were all competing for a vocal position in the C-suite.

If you want to become a trusted adviser, you must be confident, knowledgeable, authentic, willing to help others and have the ability to step back to see the bigger picture. This applies to all industries, departments and roles, even to outside consultants.

Whether you are looking to move up into that rare group or want to be an influencer, there are a few key strategies that separate potential from attainment.

Link to organizational success

Alignment, alignment, alignment. Never underestimate the importance of demonstrating how your role, your team and your work contribute and align to the organization's strategy and success. Never assume that others are paying attention. If you have an idea or a recommendation, think about how it moves the company's business strategy forward – be it the bottom line, reputation, customer service or employee retention.

Gary Gates, thought leader in change management, says: "If you can't find a line of sight between what you are doing and company strategy – stop." Business is tough and time is precious – those at the executive table will have no time for you if you don't tie your initiatives into the business goals of the firm. So do some matchmaking. Take the time to outline your ideas and place them next to the company's key goals and see where they align. Eliminate the ones that don't.

Know the business

This sounds straightforward but we all get caught up in the day-to-day intricacies of running our own team or department without looking beyond our immediate walls. It's easier to hang out with the "friendlies" at our firms. Want to move up? Then it's time to step out. Carve out time to check out industry news and the competition. Daily.

Join an industry or related association and get actively involved. Meet with others in your firm and learn about their opportunities and challenges and how you might be able to contribute. You are sure to find inspiration and new sources of information that will make you a better leader.

Bring it to life

We tell stories to our kids, our parents and our friends all the time. We need to bring that storytelling mentality to our jobs. Executives can't be everywhere, but they need to know what is going on in all areas of the company. And while they might want to get "down and dirty," time is their enemy. You can play that role. Be their eyes and ears. Bring your department to life so that they have a better understanding of how it works.

If you are in charge of customer service for example, share engaging stories about how a customer used your product or how the lack of a software investment prevented a sale. Learn to translate information into numbers and statistics. It will help them analyze the need for a change. Making the information you present memorable will help you stand out.

Communicate effectively

Ok, I'm a communicator so you had to see this one coming. Communication skills are essential. Are you head legal counsel and need to provide a recommendation to the head of operations? Speak in plain language – which doesn't mean "dumbing it down" – it means being respectful of the fact that everyone's background and expertise may not be the same as yours.

Reach deep and dig out your relevant experiences, explain why you have the authority to make certain recommendations and trust your own judgment. Above all, be confident in your delivery.

Know when it's best said in an e-mail and when you need to pick up the phone to have a real conversation. Afraid of speaking in front of groups? Take presentation training and practice those skills. Be concise, be accurate and be truthful.

Ask the right questions

It will quickly become apparent if you try to fool executives into thinking you have all the answers when you don't. No one – not even the most senior executive in the room – will have all the answers on the spot. Sometimes the best counsel comes from knowing where to probe to root out the cause of a problem or concern. Come prepared to meetings to ask questions that can lead executives to ponder outcomes, issues and solutions not previously considered.

Be yourself

In your pursuit of leadership, don't forget that you're human and so are those around you. Ask questions, be smart, listen to others, recommend solutions that are a win for everyone involved and trust your instincts. And don't forget your sense of humour.

Pat McNamara (@patapex) is chief executive officer and founder of Toronto-based APEX Public Relations Inc.