Table of Contents

Statement of Problem
Literature Review
Projected Results

DoD Short Course Class 00-B

Statement of Problem

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 affairs programs.

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 public affairs.

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