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A Study Examining
Demographic Factors and Personality Traits
that Influence Military Public Affairs' Credibility
Statement of Problem
Whether in peacetime or during conflict, PAOs provide timely and
accurate information to their respective service members, military families,
and the American public. As the commander’s spokesperson, the PAO should be
considered a knowledgeable, credible, and competent staff officer who
understands his unit’s strategic and tactical goals and knows how and when
to communicate those goals to internal and external audiences.
Unfortunately, PAOs often find themselves having to prove their
communication competencies and knowledge before they are seen as credible by
their peers and senior leadership. Without this credibility, PAOs are not
considered equal partners in the command’s planning and operation efforts
and subsequently cannot perform their mission—“telling the command story.”
Since it is the PAO’s responsibility to be truthful about command issues which generate media interest, they often face a credibility issue spawned by an organizational hesitancy to publicly release information which may be construed as negative or damaging to the command. However, just as commanders trust their personnel and administrative officers with personnel issues or aviators with unit aircraft, commanders must be able to entrust their PAOs to effectively collect, interpret, and disseminate information. Without an open communication system between the command and the PAO, entropy inevitably increases, resulting in an ineffective public affairs program.
From the PAO’s perspective, nothing is more important than gaining a sense of credibility and developing an open system of organizational communication between the PAO and command staff. The question posed is why some PAOs have a harder time fostering this positive relationship than others. Do certain behavioral traits or demographic variables contribute to the problem? For example, could certain trait-like behaviors, such as the PAO’s and or the commander’s dogmatic perception of true credibility, inhibit a new PAO’s ability to be perceived as credible, especially when first being introduced into the unit? Could the PAO accession program directly influence the perceived level of credibility the command will initially bestow on their PAO?
This study looks at credibility as an important communication-based variable since it greatly influences other communication behaviors in organizational contexts. With increased perception of credibility comes more effective communication, justifying the basis of this study. We are not claiming these factors are exhaustive. Instead we explore the possibility that our selected variables directly affect perceived credibility.
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