Self-Awareness for Exec Comms Pros (or Selves Awareness, More Like)

How to add max value by playing vastly different roles in the course of a typical day in exec comms.

Every corporate communications role requires lots of emotional intelligence, self-awareness. But surely none requires more interpersonal athleticism than that of the executive communicator, who must fluidly navigate a huge range of situations and corresponding positions: 

Sometimes you’re the leading character, other times a facilitator, frequently a supporting character.

But you always have the opportunity to deliver value. Here are some thoughts on how to deliver the most value in every situation you face.

What’s the situation?

First, let’s walk through a few typical situations and the expectations of your role in each.


  • Executive coaching or rehearsing: Listening and providing constructive feedback. 
  • Leading a team: If you manage a team of Exec Comms professionals, you are setting team priorities, establishing regular touchpoints like weekly meetings and a team slack channel, and ensuring alignment and visibility across the entire team’s scope. 


  • Staffing a meeting with your executive (for example, with the internal leadership team or a customer): Developing the agenda, taking notes, ensuring action items are carried out or delegated.
  • Carrying out a request: Your executive has agreed to do something – like a speaking engagement or sending an email to a customer. Your role is not to vet the request and provide a recommendation, but rather to carry it out. (There may be times where you strongly oppose the executive carrying out the request because it could damage their brand or lead to an unintended consequence; as their Exec Comms counsel, you should voice those concerns.)

Combination of Leading and Supporting

  • Executive’s team (Office of the CXO) meeting: Often with the executive, their administrative partner, their chief of staff, and their Exec Comms partner, this regular team meeting is where the executive’s upcoming calendar, travel, content and messaging, and priorities are discussed. These meetings tend to be informal in nature, and your role is a contributor to the agenda and discussion.
  • Project-based collaboration: Collaborating with a broader, cross-functional team for a specific project or outcome. Like a keynote for your annual conference, announcing an acquisition, an internal organizational announcement, or a guest speaker slot at a third-party conference. You’re gathering context and providing input or counsel based on your executive’s communications style or needs.

Read the room

In each of these situations and others, you are quickly assessing your role and how you can add the most value. Sometimes the executive will look to you for counsel or input; other times they are looking to the other voices involved. If you are unsure of your role, start by asking yourself these questions:

When it comes to a particular topic under discussion, who has the most context and knowledge? 

  • You may be in a setting where you are not the expert on the topic; however you’ve been briefed by that expert and hold the most knowledge or context amongst the smaller group. When that’s the case, you should take a leading role in the discussion. For example, you’re in a weekly meeting with the Office of the CXO, and the subject of an upcoming trip to Europe is raised. You had previously met with the leader of the European business about this trip, and they told you that an additional day to meet with customers in the UK is no longer requested. You should pass along that info for the purposes of the trip planning, since nobody else in the group has yet been made aware.
  • If it’s not you, either defer to the experts, or facilitate them sharing their input and context with your executive. I’ve been in situations where sales or product experts within the company feel intimidated or nervous about speaking with an executive at such a high level. You can play an important role in helping them feel more confident in the discussion and coaching them to succinctly share that expertise with the executive.

What does your executive expect or want from you? 

  • For example, If you’re taking notes during a customer meeting, know in advance if your executive welcomes you providing additional input into the conversation, or if they prefer you remain quiet and strictly take notes and action items.

Is there a clear leader in this discussion? 

  • Be ready to shift to a leadership role if there is no clear driver or decision maker, or you sense a successful outcome is at risk.

Is your executive missing a perspective ‘from the trenches’?

  • Executives often find themselves operating in an exclusive bubble, primarily interacting with top company leadership. This can lead to decisions that are out of touch, or are based on second- or third-hand information. Help them get exposure to different perspectives across the levels and functions within the organization. There will be dynamics you’re seeing or hearing that are also worth sharing.

Is your reporting chain part of this discussion? 

  • If so, your executive may want to hear directly from the CMO or head of corporate comms or chief of staff, depending on who you report to. 

Self awareness is a skill that serves us in all facets of life, and is acutely important in the realm of Exec Comms. Understanding how to deliver value across a range of situations allows for continued trust building with your executive and partners, as well as a stronger outcome.


A founding member of the Executive Communication Council, Kari Matalone is senior director, corporate and executive communications at Snowflake, a cloud computing-based data company. Prior to Snowflake, Kari managed executive communications for six years at Splunk, and four years at Cisco. Born and raised in San Jose, Calif., Kari attended university in Brussels, Belgium, and began her career there, before returning to the Bay Area.

Leave a Reply

Download Whitepaper

Thank you for your interest. Please enter your email address to view the report.