Some of you may not know that I was a relationship manager in my previous life, before the stress of my caring roles took its toll and led me to make the hard decision to leave my position.

I loved managing relationships. It was a role where I could do what I do best (talk!) and take the time to build meaningful relationships to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome. I enjoyed interacting with others, trying to understand their point of view, finding ways around obstacles and working together to get a positive result.

It’s probably no surprise that I’ve found a way to still do the things that I love, even though I am no longer employed in that role. Instead, I employ a relationship management approach when advocating for my kids with therapists, specialists and schools. There is a lot to advocate for when you’re a special needs parent…

Advocacy is one of the biggest roles we take on as special needs parents. Whether we like it or not, we need to be the ones to identify and fight for our kids needs. We may enlist help along the way, but, in the end, it’s down to us to ensure our kids receive the supports they need to thrive.

Unfortunately, advocacy is not easy and it’s not always pleasant – you only have to jump into any online special needs parenting group to see that.


We’ve got the wrong view on advocacy

When we think about advocacy, most of us jump to the adversarial picture of two sides at war, citing legislation, policies and procedures in their bid to win. We all should take a step back from that picture in our mind, because we’re missing a crucial element of advocacy when we take that view.

Advocacy is not about fighting or winning. Advocacy is about showing “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy” (Oxford Dictionary). At its heart, advocacy is the act of supporting someone to be heard. It’s not about fighting, winning or battling. Advocacy is the act of identifying and raising issues, increasing awareness and working towards an appropriate resolution.

In my professional and personal experience, the best way to advocate and achieve a positive result is through employing the principles of relationship management.

I’d go as far to say that relationship management is the overlooked first step in effective advocacy.

Think about it.

Are you going to get the result you are looking for if you go in with a siege mentality? Will you secure the help you need if you go in with all guns blazing?

Sometimes, yes, you need to bring in reinforcements. There are times when the best relationships can break down.

However, in most cases you will get better results and secure the help and support you need if you follow the principles of relationship management.


The Principles of Relationship Management

Relationship management is the “supervision and maintenance of relationships between a company and its external partners, especially its clients” (Oxford Dictionary). Don’t be put off by the references to company and clients in that definition. The important point is the “maintenance of relationships.”

To maintain effective business relationships you need to do a few things:

  • initiate clear communication
  • establish dispute resolution processes
  • understand the motives of each side
  • identify a common goal
  • follow through on actions
  • know the value you bring to the table
  • employ good negotiation skills
  • schedule regular contact
  • be willing to compromise to achieve a win/win result for both sides
  • find creative ways to deal with issues
  • set objectives and measures of success.


If you look carefully at this list, you may see more than a few similarities to skills you may already be employing when advocating for your child at school, in the community or with medical specialists. You need to schedule time for meetings. Follow up on decisions made. Identify the goal you are working towards. Find alternate ways to deal with issues.

Effective advocacy begins with relationship management. If you can establish positive, productive and polite relationships from the very beginning, you will have a far better chance of successfully advocating for your child’s needs.

You will be able to deal with issues before they grow into crises. You’ll be able to discuss your child’s needs logically and with less upset. You’ll understand the motives of the other side and be able to use this knowledge to achieve a positive outcome for all.

And, here’s how.

How to Advocate Using Relationship Management Principles

I will be expanding on each of these points in future posts but there are the 10 core relationship principles I use when advocating for my kids with school and medical professionals.

Introduce Yourself – make yourself known to all stakeholders. Building a rapport with everyone involved in your child’s care will make it easier to communicate issues and organise meetings in the future.

Make the Effort to Listen – even if you don’t like what you are hearing, you need to make the effort to listen and take in what is being said. If you don’t listen, how do you expect the other side to listen to you?

Set Clear Goals – set objectives for each meeting to keep you on track and focused on what your child needs. Ensure you can measure your success against these goals so you keep making progress.

Understand Motives – it’s important to understand the position of the other side in any negotiation. Try to take their perspective and see where there is common ground to achieve a positive outcome.

Concentrate on Solutions – it’s easy to caught up in the issues and assigning blame. When you raise issues, suggest a potential solution to move everyone forward and get them to focus on resolving the situation.

Know Your Value – don’t dismiss your place at the table because you are merely a parent. Undertand the value you bring and use this to your advantage. You know your child best and this knowledge is gold.

Be Creative – if a request is rejected, don’t give up. Think of other ways you could present a case to get a positive outcome. Don’t forget to emphasise the positives for everyone, not just for your child.

Follow Up & Follow Through – never forget to follow through with promised actions. At the very least, explain any delay and re-negotiate if you can no longer complete them, lest you erode trust in the relationship.

Be Available – schedule time and prioritise meetings to demonstrate your commitment to the relationship. Show that you are serious in working with the other side to get the best possible outcome for your child.

Be genuine – take the time to recognise where you share common goals and work together to make positive change for everyone, not just for your child. Volunteer your time, be generous and be genuine in your interactions.


Have you used a relationship management approach in your advocacy efforts?