|Every public affairs officer
has had to deal with difficult commanders at times. These are the
commanders who typically refuse interview requests, shy away from interacting
with community leaders, resist the opportunity to write an editorial for
the base newspaper, and often use public affairs professionals in a manner
inconsistent with the true purposes of the discipline. This research
project will determine the types of influences affecting commanders' perceptions
of public affairs and their willingness or lack thereof to support public
It is vital that the public
affairs professionals be able to quickly assess and understand the myriad
of variables influencing their commander's perceptions and attitudes toward
public affairs and how these are translated into either supportive or non-supportive
behaviors. Without an understanding of these influences, public affairs
professionals are severely handicapped in their abilities to gain the much-needed
confidence and support of the commander and other staff members.
The research design will
consist of a quantitative questionnaire designed for public affairs officers
to assess their commanding officer's perceptions and attitudes toward public
affairs and their subsequent support of public affairs. The data
collected from the initial questionnaires will be used in the development
of a similar questionnaire directly targeting those in command positions.
Ultimately, this research will assist in developing strategies of influence
that PA's can use with commanders who have traditionally been non-supportive
and uninvolved in public affairs programs.
Military public affairs
officers have one of the most challenging and unique missions in the armed
services. They are charged with developing and implementing information
campaigns to inform and educate military members and the American public
about the roles and mission of the military in peacetime and in war.
In the military as in business, success or failure is a direct result not
only of how well the mission is executed, but how well it is communicated
to the many audiences that have a vested interest in that mission.
Seizing the initiative to tell the military story is the only way to gain
and maintain the trust and support of military members as well as the Americans
who pay the bills and send their sons and daughters to serve our nation.
Recognizing that communication
is one of the most important elements of sound leadership, it is fundamental
that commanders at all levels set the example by being personally involved.
They also must educate, energize, and empower their people to tell the
military story at every opportunity. In turn, public affairs professionals
must provide military members the information and training they need to
communicate key messages to important audiences effectively.
Unfortunately, not every
military commander realizes the true value of what public affairs brings
to the fight. When commanders don’t realize the value of a program,
they are unlikely to become personally involved and provide the support
necessary to ensure the program succeeds. A commander’s lack of support
for public affairs may result from a lack of education and understanding
of the public affairs role in and subsequent value to the overall mission.
It could stem from perceptions that public affairs is not a “hard-core”
operational mission. It may even be a result of attitudes of fear
and distrust toward the news media, whom PA’s must interact with regularly
to spread the military message “outside the gates.”
This Capstone project
is designed to determine just what the myriad of influences are that shape
commanders’ perceptions of public affairs and guide their subsequent attitudes
and behaviors – either in a supportive or non-supportive role. To
ascertain what those influences are, the researchers developed a 35-question
web-based survey that public affairs professionals in all four military
services and the Coast Guard will use to assess their commander’s attitudes
toward and support of public affairs. A similar version will also
be sent to commanders, and the results from both will be analyzed to assess
the major influences shaping leader’s perceptions and attitudes toward
The ultimate goal, if the
research project were carried to its logical conclusion, would be to devise
strategies, based on the major influences, that PA professionals could
use to develop a leader who is more supportive of public affairs operations.
A more supportive leader is defined as a leader who:
1) Better understands
the true role of public affairs
2) Better understands
the value of public affairs in accomplishing the overall mission
3) Translates that
understanding into action by increased involvement and support