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Rick White on Leadership in PR

Updated: Feb 24, 2019

“I’m the low man on the totem-pole.” We’ve all probably had that thought run through our heads. However, we don’t have to stay there forever. Rick White was once in our shoes as a young public relations professional, and now he is the associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While speaking at The University of Alabama’s PRSSA Southeastern Regional Conference, White shared his tips on how to become a leader in the public relations world.

Key Takeaways from White’s Presentation:

1) Be self-aware. What kind of leadership style do you bring to the table? Are you a strategic, tactical or process thinker? Match your leadership opportunities to your strengths, because if you don’t, you might find difficulty in being successful.

2) Practice ‘everyday leadership’ every day. Being good at something requires lots of practice. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had to practice his speeches multiple times over before he perfected them enough to present to a larger crowd. Practice makes perfect.

3) Have context and purpose. If you start to ask yourself, “Well, what’s in it for me?” you’ll end up falling into the dark. In fact, being a leader involves being selfless. You need to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I here?” Once you know what you really want to accomplish, you’re on your way to becoming a leader.

4) Pick your spot. When you get yourself into a situation where you have the chance to lead and make a difference, look for signs of welcome. However, don’t overstay your welcome. Be sure to stay professional at all times. As aspiring public relations professionals, we need to do our work to the best of our ability and when appropriate, ask for more. If we’ve completed the duties that we had, we should move on to the next thing.

What skills does White recommend for success? 1) Be able to manage your time. Respecting time and schedules is equivalent to receiving respect from others. That’s how you become a consistent leader.

2) Be a crisis thinker. We never know when something is going to be thrown our way. We should make sure that crisis does not affect the way we lead. We should be able to remain calm and handle it like a normal day.

3) Be able to work with others. A sign of a good leader is his or her ability to work well in a group setting. Address problems head on. Remain objective and do not have favorites among the people you are working with. Develop strong listening skills to show the people you lead that they are important.

As someone who wants to be a leader in the public relations field, I found this presentation to be extremely attractive. Rick White’s advice inspired me to work better as a leader in my own world. I hope that the same can be said for you in whatever stage of life you’re currently in.

What more can you be doing right now to become a leader in your community? Write down the answer and go out and achieve it! You’re capable of doing anything that you set your mind to.

-by Mary Catherine Molay, PRSSA General Member

Mary Catherine Molay is the president of the Public Relations Council of Alabama’s student chapter at The University of Alabama. She is also a student assistant for the Athletic Communications Department at UA. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her at


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