I was once carpeted by my boss for a piece I had written in a local journal published by and on behalf of the voluntary and not for profit sector. The leader had had a word with him. Apparently I should have made it clear that I was writing in a personal capacity and not as a spokes person for the local authority. The boss was at pains to state that the leader did not necessarily disagree with anything in the pierce and this was not an attempt to stop staff writing for this type of publication. So when I was approached a few weeks later to do a follow up piece I made a very clear statement at the beginning of the article that the views expressed were my own and did not necessarily reflect those of the LA. So I was a bit surprised to be carpeted again and this time the boss was not so understanding. Why had I written another piece after our last conversation? But I said I made it clear these were my personal views. To which he replied, “ senior managers don’t have the luxury of personal views”. I was reminded of this conversation on reading that Gary Linker and other high profile celebrities at the BBC had been told to curb the expression of personal political views on their Twitter accounts by the new Director general.
Throughout my career I have walked this type rope, working for a LA and expressing my personal professional views. Always trying to promote best practise, never criticising my employer. But best practice can be controversial and some can take it as a criticism of their practice. I only once sort to clear an article before submitting it for publication, my manager submitted it to their manager. I don’t know how many people checked it before it was returned to me with changes but it was weeks before I got it back. The alterations, in an attempt to remove anything contentious, resulted in something so bland and uninteresting that I realised their was no point in submitting it. From them on I submitted articles and the first my boss or any one else knew about it was if it was published. This didn’t really cause any of my bosses a problem since they could truthfully say they knew nothing about it. I was of course lucky to work for a number of very understanding and trusting bosses, I’m not so sure I would have got away with this behaviour in the current climate, where politicians can be super sensitive and chief executives super cautious and everyone talks of the importance of loyalty.
I am no longer the young naive manager flattered to be asked my views. I do recognise what my boss meant by , senior managers don’t have the luxury of personal views, but that doesn’t mean you have to play safe, say nothing and be a bland, opinion less manager. Or may be I just like the thrill of the tight rope.
Blair McPherson former Director , author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk