Sally Williamson, President and Founder, Sally Williamson and Associates (SW&A)Sally Williamson, President and Founder
A leader or a manager may be highly qualified and skilled in his chosen field, but his abilities become irrelevant without competent communication skills. At Sally Williamson & Associates (SW&A), Sally Williamson and her team help rising leaders at all levels strengthen communication influence and impact across their organization. The company undertakes training programs and executive presence coaching, to teach the fundamentals and finer nuances of effective communication, and create better leaders.

In an interview with CIO Application, Sally Williamson, President and founder of SW&A shares her insights on effective communication, and how their training programs and coaching can improve communication strategies. As a leading resource for improving the impact of spoken communications, Williamson has been coaching leaders for more than thirty years. Her team specializes in executive coaching and developing custom programs for groups across company verticals. By working with professionals to better understand their listener’s expectations, SW&A can coach a communicator to influence people with a compelling storyline and personal style that drives engagement.

What spurred the conception of SW&A?

I founded SW&A when I realized the gap between training and coaching in the marketplace. We are one of the few firms in the training industry that combines both concepts to not only introduce skills but to help a person adapt skills to their communication situations. Communication is a durable skill that all organizations look for, and it is an essential skill of leadership.

In the early stages of a person’s career, if someone can express their ideas with confidence, they move up the career ladder quickly. For mid-level managers, clarity of communication is essential to manage people and processes. And for senior leaders, the expectations of communication increase significantly as employees and customers expect a compelling leader who can build trust, understanding and conviction behind ideas.

What are some of the recent trends that you have witnessed in the leadership development space?

The trend we see is urgency. Companies need leaders ready to lead, and new managers ready to manage right now. The skills haven’t changed; it’s the timing that has intensified in terms of having someone ready to step into a role. And, it’s why we have two delivery models: executive coaching and group workshops. Through workshops, we teach the foundational skills for future leaders and through coaching, we strengthen consistency and impact for someone who is already leading.

Tell us more about the services you offer and how do you deliver the same?

We deliver our services through group workshops, and one-onone coaching programs.

When you work on communication skills, it comes down to content development, what someone plans to say, and personal delivery skills, how someone comes across when they say it.

We teach foundational skills for creating content and building personal confidence, and then we support that foundation with a number of situational tools to help someone apply the fundamentals in many different ways.

What sets us apart in the marketplace is a deep bench of expertise. Our coaches share the intent of communication rather than just the techniques. And that means that we bring knowledge from our research and our insights on what it takes to drive impact with listeners. While we often focus on communication in a classroom format, no one on our team started their career as an instructor. Instead, we were in roles that required clarity and influence and we have leveraged that experience into our coaching relationships.

Historically, our workshops run one-two days, and our coaching engagements are tailored to the needs of the coachee.

Urgency is the trend impacting professional development. Companies need leaders and managers ready right now

In 2020, many of our programs shifted to a virtual format, and we now have the capability to deliver all of our services as a series of sessions with small group breakouts and coaching circles.

How do you measure the outcomes of your programs?

We start with the rating of the workshop by participants. We capture a self-assessment of skills at the start of the program and the completion of the program. We also have an online practice tool that allows us to track frequency of practice and the tools being leveraged by an individual. In our custom programs, we provide managers with tools for ongoing coaching and support. And if we’ve worked with a group on messaging as well as personal delivery, we can also design a customer survey to measure effectiveness of content and style.

Could you narrate an instance that highlights the benefits brought to one of your clients, through your coaching program?

One of our clients was a specialized group of technologists. They were the most senior technical team within the organization and a quiet resource to a top leader. With an abrupt shift in leadership, the senior sponsor was gone and the group had no visibility and no executive support. The technical leader feared that her team would be dissolved.

She sought help to build the storyline that elevated their role and their results within the organization. She knew they had to resell their value to the leadership team and build greater awareness across the organization. We worked with the team to build a story that highlighted their expertise and raised awareness of their impact. We built a strategy with their communications team to raise their visibility among colleagues and we helped each technologist gain confidence in sharing that story in multiple settings.

Within about six months, the group had established visibility within the company and had begun to establish value with the leadership team. Within a year, the group had doubled in size and was managing three times the amount of work for the full leadership team.

What is SW&A’s future roadmap and how do you stay ahead of the competition?

We always align ourselves with our client’s priorities and pain points. We learn a lot through relationships and discussions about expectations. One client may lead us to their priorities, and over a period of time, we begin to see a trend developing across a number of clients.

We’re able to share commonalities and bring conversations together as we position our response to a trend.

A great example was the pandemic. No one really understood the nuances of virtual communication and the balance of similarities and differences. We quickly pulled our learnings together and created a Virtual Communicator course to help our clients navigate the new normal.

We’re also underway with our fourth book on career disruption. The trends that we see are more frequent shifts in careers and roles. So, whether you create your own disruption or are impacted by a company’s disruption, we believe professional development and skills of influence are ingredients that people need to take ownership for themselves. The book sets up the research to validate the trend and provides our insight and coaching on how to reset your personal brand and your professional career.