Public Relations Tactics

Leadership Lessons From PRSA Leaders

June 2, 2014

During my 20-year PRSA career, I’ve worked with numerous staff and volunteer leaders.

And I’ve taken away wisdom from each of them. (I’d certainly be able to generate a handy listicle for this leadership issue of Tactics from the lessons I’ve learned.)

However, I’d like to focus on a few leaders in particular. May 30 marked Bill Murray’s last day as PRSA’s CEO after seven-plus years with us. He moved on for new challenges with the National Coffee Association.

His departure has me reflecting on what I’ve gleaned from the three PRSA CEOs/executives during my time here.

When I started at PRSA as news editor of Tactics in 1994, Ray Gaulke was our executive director. I’ve always been a morning person. However, regardless of how early I’d arrive, Ray was still the first one at the office. I’d hear him tapping away on the typewriter in his office, cranking out memos for staff and other correspondence. (Just so you know, we all used computers at this time. Ray was old-school and liked his typewriter.) Hearing the rhythmic typing inspired me in the morning.

As I continued to earn more responsibility in my editor’s role, these mornings reinforced the importance of getting an early start on the day. I find that I produce the most work in the hours before everyone arrives. I gather my thoughts and set priorities for the day, which allows me to be much more strategic and proactive than reactive.

Catherine Bolton took over for Ray in early 2001. I’d describe her leadership style as tough but fair. She ably led us through many difficult times, most notably 9/11.

I recall a small but crucial piece of advice she offered me as I left our office to walk home to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She suggested that I use the ATM in the bank in our building. I did, and I was happy that she thought of this, since many banks were closed and ATMs were empty in the days that followed. This was a lesson in crisis preparedness, as we may not know what will happen in the future.

Bill joined PRSA in early 2007. I quickly admired how he didn’t make knee-jerk decisions. He’d gather all the relevant information about a situation, and then act accordingly. “There are three sides to every story,” he told me early on.

He wrote the following on being a leader in his June 2010 Tactics column: “Leadership entails the ability to make a decision when all of the facts are not apparent, defend your decision and rally others through persuasive argument.”

We’ll miss Bill, but wish him all the best in future endeavors.

On the topic of leadership, PRSA’s National Nominating Committee is undergoing the annual process of recruiting candidates for 2015 Board Officers and Directors.

Here’s more information from the PRSA website:

In reviewing candidates, the committee weighs qualifications and characteristics such as: 1) proven leadership skills and professional accomplishments; 2) diversity of practice sectors, such as agency, corporate, nonprofit, government, military and academia; 3) geographical origin; and 4) candidate diversity.

The submission deadline for applications is June 17.


John Elsasser

John Elsasser is PRSA's publications director. He joined PRSA in 1994.


Rosanna M. Fiske, APR says:

Well said, John! Your column also helped me reflect on what I learned by working with Ray, Catherine and Bill. Thank you for continually bringing the human side to leadership stories.

June 8, 2014

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