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A Study Examining
Demographic Factors and Personality Traits
that Influence Military Public Affairs' Credibility
Most military Public Affairs Officers (PAOs)
would agree they are in a challenging profession. One of the first challenges
they experience is reporting to their first duty assignment and dealing with the
relational uncertainty between themselves and other unit members. PAOs must
also establish their credibility within the command structure in order to
effectively do their job. Schweiger (2000) defines credibility as an attributed
variable given to a communicator from a receiver, based upon that receiver’s
internal perception of the communicator. The receiver’s (unit member)
perception can be negatively or positively influenced depending on certain
trait-like behaviors the communicator (PAO) exhibits. Likewise, the
communicator’s known background (years of experience in service branch or public
affairs) can also sway a receiver’s perception which can ultimately influence
the level of credibility organizational members will attribute to the newcomer.
The direction of this study focuses on the underlying elements of credibility that new PAOs may or may not recognize. Personality-driven or trait-like behaviors, recognized as universally positive for a professional communicator, can be construed as important factors when deciphering a communicator’s credibility. Demographic factors, such as experience and training, may also affect credibility. What are some common personality traits and demographic characteristics that every PAO needs to be credibly perceived as the new command public affairs spokesperson?
The first aspect of this study collects demographic information, such as years of service and education level, in order to analyze its possible correlation to credibility. Each service accesses its PAOs differently based on service-unique criteria which affect the PAOs different demographic factors. Can a causal relationship be identified between accession and credibility? Additionally, the nature of military culture which revolves around training, is an important aspect which contributes to an individual’s credibility. Every military service member must complete a certain level of training per occupational specialty. The Defense Information School (DINFOS) provides the required training for all military PAOs by teaching basic public affairs principles. Armed with DINFOS training, PAOs should have the necessary skills to perform as credible communication practitioners.
We chose, from many options, to study three common personality-based variables – communication competency, assertiveness, and interaction involvement. These trait behaviors are “assumed to be consistent across contexts and specific situations within particular contexts…one’s behavior regarding a trait is expected not to vary greatly from one situation to the next” (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997, p. 106). These hypothetical constructs were chosen because we feel they are the most applicable to PAO credibility.
Our method includes three surveys to assess self-reported levels of each behavioral variable as perceived by the new PAO regardless of service. We posit the survey results can be compared to the next element of the study, an assessment of the commander’s perception of PAO credibility. All surveys include information regarding experience and training to analyze the demographic aspect of the study.
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