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Alumna nets top communication award

December 2, 2011

A solid career is built from the heart, and supported by many.

For Anna Willey, her notable career has spanned more than three decades in communications, taking her from the newsroom of a community paper to the head of the communications shop at the University of Regina. Through it all she credits a supportive network of family and colleagues.

Part of Willey's network comes from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a group for which she regularly volunteers her time and passion. Her commitment to the changing field of communications is well regarded and this year she was named the IABC Canada Master Communicator - the second Royal Roads alumna to receive the honour in as many years. The award recognizes Canadian communications professionals whose work has brought credit to IABC, the profession and the organizations with which they have worked.

"I was deeply honoured and completely humbled to have received this recognition by peers. That is so meaningful and just so amazing," Willey says. "I feel very proud that I am a recipient of that designation."

Willey is also the recipient of the 2011 Chairman's Award from IABC, which recognizes an IABC member who has made selfless contributions to enhance the association's image, facilitate member development and benefit the communications profession. In 2010, she received Saskatchewan's Lifetime Achievement Award in Communication Excellence.

"Anna is very thoughtful, and mindful of interactions and relationships," says Zoe MacLeod, director for the Centre of Applied Leadership and Management at Royal Roads. She is able to see possibilities, and through effective collaboration turns possibility into action, she adds.

An active volunteer with IABC, Willey has been instrumental in the development of the IABC Executive Accreditation Seminar, which was hosted on campus in November. Her connection to Royal Roads runs deeper than that as she is an alumna of the Developing Leadership Impact program, delivered through CALM.

Through all of her work with organizational communications, Willey notes the importance of doing research and setting measurable objectives. You have to understand your audience and their needs and preferences, she says. It's a constant conversation hinged on balance for everyone involved.

"I'm very fortunate. I have a very supportive family," Willey says. "You have to really know where your priorities are. The role of communications is highly demanding at certain times and you have to monitor the deadlines but just as important is to honour the needs of your family. It means sometimes working different hours to get work done."

Knowing just how much work you are willing to do is a key part of the equation as well, says Kellie Garrett, a MA Leadership alumna and last year's Master Communicator Award recipient. That same year she was awarded the Canadian Public Relations Society President's Award for Outstanding Public Relations and Communications Management.

Despite being very different, the women do share some notable personality traits, says MacLeod, who graduated from the MA Leadership program with Garrett. With magnetic personalities, they have mastered moving beyond egos to effectively lead with humility.

"(For them) it's all about people. They are very straightforward and also genuine," she says. "(With Kellie) she doesn't take herself so seriously. She has the ability to get past ego and honour and guide others on their quest for excellence."

In 2009, SaskBusiness Magazine named her one of Saskatchewan's 10 Most Influential Women. Garrett was honoured as one of Canada's Most Powerful Women in the professionals category by the Women's Executive Network.

Currently the vice-president of strategy, knowledge and reputation at Farm Credit Canada, Garrett has an eye on helping others see their strengths. That doesn't mean telling people they can do anything, she cautions.

 "I believe we need to find our sweet spot, our talent that intersects with the amount of work we are willing to do in order to do more than we thought possible," she says. "That's not the same as 'you can do anything.'"

Regardless of where someone is in their career path, they need to look long term, she says. She didn't prescribe to that notion, and while she was very successful in her professional life her personal life was not always the same story. When people are young they are quite superficial about what they think they want out of life, she says, noting goals are often framed by salaries, job titles and material gains. As we grow up, those priorities change, and people need to think about that when they are making decisions about career and life.

"To suppose you are going to have a life without regret is folly because ... if you regret nothing you probably didn't take any risks. You probably didn't push yourself out of your comfort zone," she says.

"Peace begins in your home and in your heart so the more you can be at peace with your choices and do something that makes your heart sing the more likely you are to be happy, the more likely you are to spread that around you."

Anna Willey offers her insights on successful practices and how to get ahead in organizational communications.

- Listen carefully.

- Be flexible, reliable, follow up in a timely way.

- Welcome changes and challenges.

- Build a professional network. Never stop learning.

- Enjoy family and work. Always have fun.