Crisis Management Leadership – what is your style?

“Leadership is a matter of how to be, not how to do” (Schoenberg, Allan, May 2004, What it Means to Lead During a Crisis, Syracuse University, Syracuse).

A significant feature of any crisis management team (CMT) is that it requires a group of people, who ordinarily act themselves as leaders, to collaborate in a way that is fundamentally different from the “business as usual” state. Whilst it may seem that the CMT is simply the senior management team, a crisis situation usually means that they must be more “together” and reach good decisions quickly about things that they do not normally decide.

Research on a number of publications on crisis management leadership suggests that one of the most important things for a CMT leader to do is to establish a common purpose.

In business continuity management (BCM) terms this should mean:

  1. Establishing the safety and welfare of everyone affected by the situation
  2. Meeting the documented objectives (recovery of activities) described in the business continuity plan (BCP)

Hershey and Blanchard[1] suggest 4 leadership styles:

  • Telling
  • Selling
  • Participating
  • Delegating


The choice of style is not only based on the leader’s preference, but also on the maturity of the group. However, in a crisis response situation it is most likely that participating and delegating will be the most effective leadership roles.

A recommended approach to team leadership includes involving all team members in all discussions, maintaining focus on single issues and ensuring that there are no secondary discussions going on whilst the team is discussing a particular event, issue or decision.

Schoenberg et al suggests that at the outset, (in this case) as soon as the Gold and/or silver teams are convened, the leader should brief the team on:

  • The situation; what has happened
  • The team’s objectives

Further good BCM practice suggests that the brief should also include:

  • Who is missing and why
  • Who is going to do what
  • Rules of engagement; how the team should operate, including interacting with other staff and third parties
  • The team’s 4 key activities

A significant aspect of the leader’s role is also to ensure that:

  • All members of the team are able to do their jobs
  • Fatigue and unexpected behaviour are addressed
  • Arrangements are made for sustenance, rest and relief (in the case of prolonged activity)

The importance of exercises cannot be more highly emphasised. Team members should become familiar with the way that they are led and how they should perform; the “if this was for real…….” approach will significantly reduce the value of any exercise so that when a real incident does occur, the team will be less familiar with how to achieve its objectives and therefore will not perform as well as it might otherwise have done.

For more information, read my latest book Everything you want to know about Business Continuity.

For professional advice on Business Continuity Management and ISO22301 certification contact IT Governance on 0845 070 1750 or by email to

[1] Hersey, P and Blanchard, K. H. (1972). Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources (2nd ed.) New Jersey/Prentice Hall