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In a slight twist on our usual '5 minutes' segment, Ross Monaghan of Deakin University talks about how guidance – and a lot of crises – shaped his career and his value as an executive counsel. 


Some moments stay with you for life.

The Challenger space shuttle disaster, Princess Diana’s death and 9/11 are three public moments that I share with many my age. On a personal level, thoughts of meeting my wife, our wedding, births and deaths bring back a flood of emotions.

These public and private moments are also punctuated by milestone professional events that, looking back, played a key role in shaping my career, and granted me a permanent seat at senior management meetings.  

I wish I could say that from day one I had a clear career plan in mind that involved being a business leader. In reality I was lucky, but not because of events. It was because of the guidance I was given.

I started my career as a journalist, entering a newsroom as a copyboy days after Victoria’s Ash Wednesday bushfires. When I became cadet journalist, one of my key responsibilities was ambulance chasing. The media flourishes on crisis and disaster, and reporting on tragedy is a daily chore to be accomplished by deadline. I expected the unexpected and learnt to keep a cool head and report the facts as best I could. I watched paramedics and other emergency services calmly and professionally deal with human tragedy.

I distinctly remember arriving at one incident before paramedics, and being shocked that they seemed to stroll to the scene, not rushing around frantically like other untrained people at the scene.

I learnt that staying calm in a crisis is vital.

My early communication career was spent in Australia’s largest industrial site with 12,000 employees working with molten iron and red-hot steel.

Communicating the importance of safety to employees was one of my key (and very rewarding) goals, but preparing for the worst was also a high priority. It wasn’t long before a large explosion literally rocked my office. Almost 20 people were injured, two seriously. I got to see first hand how a well rehearsed and professional communication team dealt with internal and external stakeholders.

I learnt that preparation and teamwork are crucial in an emergency.

Several years later I joined a smaller team at another steelworks.  The second week on site, whilst my manager was on holiday, we suffered the state’s worst industrial accident. I met the works general manager for the first time just as I answered a call from the major metropolitan newspaper in that state. With the GM beside me, I dealt with the call, explaining in plain English the process of steelmaking and our emergency processes. I had his trust from that day forward.

In subsequent incidents (and there were far too many) I was always one of the first responders and found when senior managers arrived, they were keen to let me make decisions about communication. That support extended far beyond emergency situations and I found myself regularly consulted about strategy. I became a strategist, and began to manage communication, rather than focusing on tactical issues.

Of course these developments weren’t all by chance.

The knowledge I gained at university was crucial in my development, but the skills and experiences I gained in the workplace were equally important, primarily because of the guidance and support I was given (especially around crucial events) by experienced and professional. Some of these mentors were in the organisation I worked, others I met through professional networking in organisations such as IABC.

There are too many to mention individually, but I’ll be forever grateful for their guidance.

If you’re a new practitioner, when thinking about your career and how you can add value to the C-Suite, consider your skills and knowledge and how mentors can help transform experiences in to positives outcomes. If you’re a seasoned practitioner, consider how your skill, knowledge and experiences can benefit others, and at the same time, increase the overall standing of professional communicators. It might be a formal process, or as simple as coming along to an IABC networking event to talk with other practitioners. 


Ross Monaghan is the Asia Pacific’s member on the IABC Youth Engagement Committee. The group is conducting research and will recommend ways in which IABC will be the professional association of choice for students and young practitioners. Ross has previously served on both the IABC Victoria and IABC NSW Boards. He is currently an academic at Deakin University in Melbourne, Victoria. Ross began his career as a journalist in regional Victoria. He worked for BHP (now BHP Billiton) in Australia and North America for 10 years, before taking on the role of Community Relations Manager for Optus. He helped establish, and was the first chair of, the Mobile Carrier’s Forum, and later became the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association.