The boundary spanner

Which tasks are performed by communication executives? A new management tool reflects the many facets of the role.

Communication leaders have manifold responsibilities, ranging from reputation management, to steering communication teams and counselling top managers in decision-making processes. This can be observed in the changing success profiles of chief communication officers (CCOs) and closer links to the C-suite.

Yet, research into the many new roles of CCOs has been lagging behind. In order to bridge this gap, we analysed existing role conceptions in public relations and communication literature and have also spoken with global heads of communication about their multi-faceted responsibilities in daily practice. The newly developed Communication Manager Roles Grid depicts the role diversity of today’s communication executives in eight dimensions. It can be used for assessing individual competencies or setting personal targets. 

Executive summary

  • The Communication Manager Roles Grid (CRG) systematises the multi-faceted tasks of today’s communication executives in eight dimensions and helps to better understand the different strategic and operational roles performed. The tool can be used to reflect on individual performance. It supports leadership when used to define success profiles or set personal targets.
  • A wide range of managerial competencies are needed to fulfil the many responsibilities of communication leaders. A solid comprehension of popular management concepts and tools is important. Moreover, a good understanding of the organisation is relevant to be able to provide consultation to top managers.
  • Communication executives can benefit from better demonstrating their personal contributions to corporate success. In particular, they can emphasise their strategic roles as ambassadors of corporate strategy and advisors of top management.

Research into professional roles has been a popular topic in communication and management sciences for decades. The origins of roles research in the field of communication in the late 1970s were marked by a strong focus on diverging gender roles and related salary gaps. Today, research investigates diverse aspects such as leadership or competency development. Over the years, many different role concepts have been suggested. Some are based on theoretical conceptualisations, some on normative ideas, others on surveys among professionals in different countries. Most studies have indicated that practitioners perform between two up to six different roles during their daily work.

Ansgar Zerfass

Dr. Ansgar Zerfass is professor and chair in strategic communication at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Leipzig, Germany. He is also professor in communication and leadership at BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, as well as editor of the International Journal of Strategic Communication, USA, and, inter alia, Plank Scholar at The Plank Center for Leadership and Communication at the University of Alabama, USA. Current projects include, amongst others, the European Communication Monitor and Asia-Pacific Communication Monitor and Value Creating Communication, the world's most extensive research program on corporate communications conducted by with several universities and global companies.

Sophia Charlotte Volk

Sophia Charlotte Volk is research associate at the Department of Strategic Communication at the University of Leipzig and has been involved in the research project Value Creating Communication. During her studies, she worked as a research assistant in a range of research projects, for instance the European Communication Monitor. She studied communication science and communication management at the Universities of Münster, Zürich, Leipzig and Ohio. In her dissertation project she is currently researching the role of strategic communication in international organizations. Her research interests include cross-cultural and international communication, strategy alignment and evaluation/measurement.