More than 80 percent of communications directors are very interested in becoming non-executive directors, but only 20 percent have managed to secure such a role according to research carried out by executive search firm Cayhill Partners.

The research, “Beyond Corporate Affairs,” uncovers frustration among the UK’s senior communications leaders when it comes to career progression, with more than half feeling they lack sufficient opportunities for promotion or career development. And more than three-quarters of those polled could not see a career outside communications, while almost nine in ten thought they would have to move companies to achieve this. 

Non-executive director roles are by far the preferred path for communications leaders to step outside their profession but most are struggling to secure these roles. Only 3 percent of those who hold an NED role are being paid for their services with the remainder in pro bono NED positions.

The research also reveals that both chairmen and—surprisingly—communications leaders themselves ranked communications as the function with the least relevant skills for NED work. Finance and operations came top.

On a more positive note, the research also found that there will likely be more opportunities for communications leaders to secure NED or other leadership roles in the future. The increasing importance of reputation, trust and advocacy skills within organisations and the corresponding growth in the stature of the corporate affairs function will open up more career opportunities, as will the recent trend for boards to form social responsibility committees.

According to director Dee Cayhill said “The need for boards to better manage their corporate reputation and identify potential risks has never been more critical. Yet when looking at the make-up of today’s boards, particularly those in the FTSE100, non-executives with these very skills—those with corporate communications experience—are noticeable by their absence. 

“The experiences of a corporate affairs director, when combined with broader leadership skills, should convert into other careers in business at executive as well as non-executive level. However, we are not there yet. I believe this is about influencing and educating over time; corporate affairs directors  need to expand their remit beyond the confines of communications, and the communications industry as a whole needs to be far more proactive in articulating the unique capabilities of senior communications practitioners and educate the wider business world about the value a background in communications can bring to other leadership roles.”