As the role of communication professionals continues to expand, the opportunity for delivering real business impact is clear.  With globalization, the multi-generational workforce, and new technologies constantly emerging, Chief Communication Officers (CCOs) and their teams are increasingly tackling projects focused on business transformation, employee engagement, and culture change.  They’re counseling leaders on the impact of strategic messaging while stepping up as social media leaders, brand ambassadors, curators of corporate character and much more.  The result: professional communicators are taking on an elevated role as strategic advisors to their businesses.

As planning for 2015 gets underway, CCOs we’re speaking to are assessing the readiness of their teams to meet these demands.  In particular, upskilling corporate communication teams quickly is a key area of focus across the board.  At the most basic level, professional communicators need to demonstrate broader analytical and critical thinking skills if they are to act as advisors with equal standing to senior colleagues in other functions.  As they advance in their roles, they’ll be expected to influence senior executives, build coalitions across functional groups, and drive business results.

While other necessary competencies may be specific by industry and geography, there’s one universal trait communicators must possess: intellectual curiosity.  Professional communicators need to supplement their core technical skills with a passion for wanting to learn more about areas such as manufacturing, logistics, finance, and operations.  In essence, building credibility as a strategic advisor will require expanded business expertise across all functions.

To excel in this new reality, CCOs will need a plan forward to nurture each individual’s intellectual curiosity while offering crucial professional skills development.  In our work, we’ve found these plans should be grounded in the context of company strategy and offer a rich array of self-directed, collaborative learning opportunities like the ones in our newly launched Communication Institute.  To upskill teams quickly, CCOs we’ve worked with say it’s also critical to: 1) set aside time on a regular basis for learning modules; 2) work with HR to connect the learning imperatives to key business drivers; and, 3) use tailored tools that promote best practice sharing.

It’s an exciting time for the communication function as CCOs work to build teams to counsel business leaders.  And mapping out a training strategy to strengthen the competencies of communication professionals should be at the top of the list of year-end activities.