Female Leader Conversations Feature Sheena Ireland, Director Specialists in Communications said, “Learning how to communicate effectively is one of the best things we can do for our workplaces, careers and communities.”
Sheena Ireland is a communication strategist with specific expertise in government and stakeholder relations. Sheena is a passionate advocate for meaningful connection in leadership, public affairs and advocacy. She believes that empathy underpins connection, and storytelling has the power to transform organisations and lives. Based in Canberra, she works across Australia advising organisations on how to craft and refine their communications, to achieve their purpose through her company Specialists in Communications.
Sheena won the 2019 Canberra Women in Business Mentor of the Year Award, in recognition of her significant support to women in business.
What can you share about the machinery of Government?
I’m often asked how organisations can get on the front foot with their government relations strategy to engage the government and influence policy and programs.
My simple answer is ‘build a relationship’.
Do your research to find out who the key contacts are for your sector/issues. Check out what they’ve said and work to gain an understanding of the competing pressures they are balancing.
Give ministers, advisers and departments examples of stories, facts and figures to help them understand your issues. Don’t assume they know the same information that you know. The secret to effective long-term communication is knowing what level of knowledge your audience has, what further knowledge they need, and being sure to educate with empathy, not aggression.
Tell us your top tips for successfully engaging stakeholders.
Stakeholder engagement also needs to be built with empathy and understanding, as well as clear objectives. This includes knowing what you need from your stakeholders, getting a clear understanding of their different needs, and recognising each of your stakeholders is unique.
For many of us, it’s important to know how to engage different stakeholder groups and put a process around your engagement, so it happens effectively and efficiently.
I always recommend that organisations map their stakeholders, including identifying why they need to be engaged, how often and through what channels.
Then put strategies and plans around this so that businesses maintain their client base and also attract new clients; industry bodies build and maintain their influence; governments engage their citizens and industries; and not-for-profits engage their network and fundraise effectively.
QUARTERLY COACHING PROGRAM
What specific challenges does your program address?
As part of my business, and throughout my career, I have coached and mentored current and emerging public service leaders and business owners. I’ve noticed themes, including self-doubt, feelings of not being heard, and burnout. These are underpinned by communication and connection.
This year I piloted my Influential Women coaching program to help women in leadership (or stepping up to leadership) work on their connection and awareness of self and others, to better their leadership and their lives.
Confidence and influence are as much about self-awareness as they are about awareness of others, awareness of issues and of the environment you are in. As a coach and mentor, I provide a safe space for people to speak openly about themselves, what they are feeling, their assumptions of others and their environment. Assisting them to process the information swirling in their minds and gain perspective and clarity.
COMMUNICATING WITH EMPATHY
How do you use communications to support mental health?
As a trained volunteer telephone crisis supporter with Lifeline, and as someone who experienced mental health issues early in life, including job burnout, I’m passionate about mental health support and prevention.
In my work at Specialists in Communications, I advocate the importance of listening and empathy in all communications efforts. These skills help me to support organisations to understand the role that empathy and connection play in internal communications. And to identify ways they can apply them to help remove stigma, improve culture, and build resilient and productive workplaces.
A clear understanding of communication, including the impact and use of tone, body language and words; and the importance of empathy and clear objectives, can help people and organisations thrive.