It is exciting to see Joe Biden turn to a very capable group of women to take lead White House roles that are vital for communications and media relations. Gender matters less than professional expertise, and all those chosen are exceptionally well qualified.

Jen Psaki will not be the first female White House press secretary. Dee Dee Myers under President Clinton and Dana Perino under President Bush have preceded her, and they are very worthy role models. Success depends on being informed and measured when temperatures rise in the James Brady Briefing Room at the White House. So here are some of my thoughts for the incoming press secretary.

First, always make sure the White House chief of staff has your back. Leon Panetta, Erskine Bowles, and John Podesta had mine. They stuck up for me if I missed a step or did not get things exactly right, which is inevitable in the fast pace of the West Wing. Ron Klain will be your most critical ally.

Second, stay close to the president but not too close. You need to know his thinking, his decisions, and say it for him when he is not saying it. But you are not family and you need to be objective and circumspect when dealing with the pundits and critics. Avoid making it personal.

Third, be a sponge for information. A lot of paper flows through the White House, and you must make sure you have access to it all, including official decision memorandums, appointment requests, and speech drafts. You have been cleared or top secret intelligence. My routine was always to go to the Situation Room in the White House basement to read the national intelligence digest and the daily brief in secure surroundings. I was not going to blab secrets, but you will protect yourself by knowing what is really going on around the world and will escape the dilemma of denying something that turns out to be true.

Fourth, as the musical “Hamilton” puts it, you always want to be “in the room where it happens.” Observe and watch all the arguments made by cabinet officials and senior staff. However, keep quiet. You want to enjoy the confidence of everyone but leave no one suspicious about your own preferences. You want every major actor in policy to come to you with their arguments and “spin.” I think I only offered an opinion in the Oval Office once, when President Clinton was discussing Bosnia and he called on me because I had spent considerable time at the State Department discussing our policy in the Balkans.

Fifth, organize your team in the White House Press Office and get strong people who can respond with authority when you might not be available. It cannot be a 24/7 job. Develop a good working relationship with all the public affairs officers, the careerists and political appointees, who are in the various agencies and cabinet offices. They are your “early warning system” on issues that might rise to White House attention.

Sixth, hold regular press briefings, which have mostly been nonexistent under President Trump. Preparing for daily briefing takes rigor and allows you to ferret out information that the public has a right to know and the government has an obligation to tell. I firmly believe that getting better, clearer answers to tough questions, often with the help of the president himself, helps to make our federal government function more effectively. Mushy answers do not survive very long at the White House. Moreover, better answers lead to better policy.

Finally, have fun. I did not avail myself of all the perks at the White House. I have never been to Camp David, mostly because the Clintons did not go much in my tenure, while their daughter was still in high school. I wish I had enjoyed that opportunity. I attended just one state dinner when British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited back in 1998. It was, shall we say, under difficult circumstances. Stevie Wonder and Elton John were great, but the magical evening ended with Peter Jennings asking me if I knew anything about a certain blue dress that belonged to Monica Lewinsky.

The relationship between the White House and the press is adversarial by definition. However, it can be amicable and professional. You will do great restoring some semblance of a working balance between the interests on both sides of the podium. After all, the truth matters most. One last bit of my advice. The office of the press secretary has one of the few working fireplaces in the West Wing. The National Park Service gets a cheery blaze going in the morning, and it is a great way to start the day.

Mike McCurry served four years as the White House press secretary under President Clinton. He is a communications consultant, a partner at Public Strategies Washington, and a professor for Wesley Theological Seminary.

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