An advocate is someone who goes to bat for you. An advocate may speak in front of an agency or court, make phones call on your behalf, write letters, campaign or lobby for an individual or a group. Advocates work in formal roles as attorneys or social workers, or they can serve in a more informal capacity through a nonprofit group or as a concerned citizen. Advocates get better in time as they practice and hone their skills of persuasion. No matter what capacity an advocate works within, however, she must have a number of characteristics to be effective.
Advocates are effective communicators. They often are called on to present a case in front of a panel or organization on behalf of their clients or interests. Advocates must be able to speak clearly and forcefully while maintaining a friendly and approachable demeanor. They must be able to listen to all sides of an issue as well as understand the needs of their clients. Letters of reference, articles for the media and informational papers often are required of advocates, so written communication skills are vital, too.
Advocates usually are in the business of creating or supporting change in some manner. Whether the advocate is trying to get help for a disabled child, garner support for a community development project or raise funds from a governmental body, advocates must rely on their skills of persuasion. They need to be pushy without putting people off.
It helps when advocates are passionate about their causes. Their energy and enthusiasm come through when they make their case. Advocates often encounter barriers and challenges that require dedication and persistence to overcome. Passion and a strong belief in the cause or issue they are advocating for will help them overcome obstacles. Organizational leaders and decision-makers recognize passion in advocates and often listen closer when an argument is presented forcefully with compassion and care.
Advocates need to understand the laws and the issues surrounding their cases. They take time to research the history of the cause and what others have done in regards to the issue. Qualities like patience and being organized allow advocates to present a clear and precise case without wasting time and effort. Direct personal or professional experience gives advocates the necessary background they need to execute their plans and make the changes they are trying to affect. Advocates take time to find out who the players are and what role each has in the decisions that affect their clients’ cases. They go to battle armed with all the facts they need to plead their cases.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."