PRINZ Senior Practitioners’ Event guest blog three: Wicked Problems are for leaders

Written by Tim Marshall, LPRINZ, Communication by Design


How often do you hear the refrain “public relations should be at the top table”? I have many times. Well wicked problems could be the opportunity to secure your place there folks. Are you ready?

According to Keith Grint, Professor of Public Leadership and Management at Warwick Business School, wicked problems are the domain of leaders.

In his provocatively named address, Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions, Professor Grint defines three different forms of authority – Command, Management and Leadership – each appropriate for different situations. (See


For example: The Command style of authority is used by armed forces or emergency services where immediate responses to orders from above are needed to respond effectively to critical situations.

The Management style is typical of “business as usual” production, be that a factory, a mine or a surgical operating theatre.

Leadership is required for wicked problems which, by definition, have no known solutions. The leader’s job is to ask the right type of questions and engage in high levels of collaboration. I say this creates opportunities for people who are expert at stakeholder engagement – surely a role for PR and communication management practitioners.

National security consultant Steven Nixon’s views complement Grint’s. He says wicked problems are a feature of our networked world and involve many stakeholders with shared power arrangements. “The part we struggle with is stakeholder participation,” he says. Again I say this opens the door for PR practitioners to use our skills and further develop our expertise in this space.

As Nixon’s highly watchable five minute YouTube presentation points out, what passes for stakeholder participation is often posturing, lobbying, horse trading, filibustering and fear-mongering akin to an episode of Survivor. (See

By contrast, he says, stakeholder participation should be characterised by lateral thinking, authentic conversations, active listening, empathy, suspended judgment and trust.

“We still need experts who can design technical solutions … but we also need expert teams that can design the stakeholder collaboration process.”

The PRINZ Senior Practitioners’ Event brings together people from various disciplines who deal with wicked problems and/or are developing techniques to address them. Organisational leaders need help to engage with stakeholders to address wicked problems. This event will help you step up to the plate.

Register here for the Wicked Problems – Senior Practitioners’ Event – non-members in the industry are welcome.

Image credit: iStock

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