Three tips government leaders can use to communicate effectively

By Jeff O'Malley | July 16, 2020

The most essential thing we do as leaders is communicate. We send messages everyday – directly and indirectly, verbally and nonverbally, through action and inaction. The ability to communicate effectively makes a tremendous impact on how well people work with their colleagues to accomplish an organization’s mission.

So we need to ask ourselves regularly, “How well am I communicating?” and “How intentional am I when sharing and connecting with my team and stakeholders?” The good news is there are many ways to improve and grow our communication skills. It can help to ask good questions and pay attention to what we’re asking for and agreeing to.

Be a curious listener. This means listening without formulating a response or deciding what people are saying before they complete their thought. Make sure you understand them by asking relevant questions and summarizing what they said back to them. By truly listening we learn and, in doing so, we strengthen our ability to build an inclusive culture and achieve quality results. 

Ask powerful questions. Questions should foster a dialogue, eliciting more than just “yes” or “no” responses. We also deepen our understanding and improve our ability to work toward the same goal. Good examples of powerful questions include:

  • What do you think about what I said?
  • In what way is your view different from mine?
  • What would you like to see done differently?

Make sure your requests are effective. Making a request is simple. Making an effective request is another story. Effective requests are specific, actionable, include a deadline and offer an opportunity for everyone to negotiate on the best plan forward.

By understanding how to communicate more effectively, we will work better with others. Our Public Service Leadership Model identifies five key elements for engaging others. Building the three skills above will help with every one of them:

  • Relationship-Building – When people feel heard and communication is clear and effective, we strengthen trust and improve our connections.
  • Empowering Others – Clear communication leads to mutual understanding, which frees people to focus on their roles more effectively.
  • Conflict Management – Unclear requests and failing to hear people out is often at the root of conflict and inefficiency. Improving our ability to resolve these issues through communication will lead to better performance.
  • Collaboration – Think about who you enjoy working with. No doubt, this list includes people who listen well and ask important questions.
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – When we listen skillfully and ask questions, we help people feel connected to the team and the work, building a sense of belonging.

Use the Public Service Leadership Model’s resources to improve your ability to engage others. For more examples of how you can use the leadership model for your professional development, check out:


Jeff O'Malley