A Crisis Leader Needs to Think Strategically and Make Key Decisions for the Overall Management and Response

Being able to coordinate multiple functional areas of an organization during a crisis requires detailed preparation. The CMT (Crisis Management Team) should have a leader as well as someone designated as his or her backup. In addition to someone that leads the crisis team, the CMT should have the tools and resources it needs to respond to, manage, and recover from crises.

There’s a difference between the role of a crisis leader and the crisis communicators. The crisis leader provides direction and management of the team and overall response. The communicators provide crisis communications support as part of the crisis leaders’ Crisis Management Team.

One of the services a Public Relations firm provides is council on what to say – and, importantly, what not to say – during a crisis. A PR firm can provide support to an organization that requires timely, accurate and strategic messaging to the various stakeholders. They’re not there to manage the overall event.

What does a crisis management leader do?

Here’s a list of some of the key roles and responsibilities:

  1. Prepare the Crisis Management Team (horizon scanning, education and skills)
  2. Practice through simulation exercises (tabletop and advanced exercises)
  3. During an incident, convene the team and conduct an initial briefing (stabilize the situation)
  4. Manage the team and set expectations early (what’s the intended outcome?)
  5. Identifying the key issues, accept the new reality quickly, think strategically, create options and make key decisions
  6. Oversee ongoing briefing cycles at regular intervals (gather facts and assumptions then get the team to work on the actions)
  7. Stakeholder awareness. Engagement with both internal and external stakeholders, engagement with media, higher management and generally meeting the needs of a diverse group of stakeholders (the leader should work with various internal communications stakeholders to ensure messaging is aligned)

Don’t be the hero – utilize the CMT to its full and don’t be afraid to bring in additional expertise.


Related: 5 Leadership Skills the Army Taught Me 

The Role of the Public Relations Team is to Create a Communications Strategy that Aligns with the Organization’s Crisis Response Objectives


What does the crisis communicator do as part of the crisis management team?

The communicator’s role is an important aspect of the crisis management team. Some of the specific tasks required to be performed by the crisis communication lead are:

  1. Prepare the crisis communications response team and other relevant company personnel including designated spokespersons who require media training and rehearsal.
  2. Create planning documents that include up-to-date contact information for all relevant internal (e.g., consultants, law firm) and external audiences (e.g., media, elected officials, regulators)
  3. Create and gain prior approvals for common or risk-specific scenario-holding statements
  4. Develop relationships and continue to build them prior to a crisis
  5. In the early stages of a crisis, create a communications strategy that aligns with the organizational response goals
  6. Monitor traditional and social media platforms; engage strategically
  7. Draft and gain all necessary approvals for messages that are sent to the various stockholder groups
  8. Attend each briefing cycle that the CMT conducts

The Crisis Management Team should prepare for a crisis the same way the crisis communications (PR) team prepare for the various communications-related challenges the organization may face. The CMT should always work closely with all its functional members. Ensuring we collaborate as a team before, during, and after an event will help us become more resilient as an organization.


“I Would Like to Know More About How to Prepare My Crisis Management and/or My Crisis Communications Team”

Rob Burton

Rob Burton

Rob is a Principal at PreparedEx where he manages a team of crisis preparedness professionals and has over 20 years of experience preparing for and responding to crises. Part of his leadership role includes assisting PreparedEx clients in designing, implementing and evaluating crisis, emergency, security and business continuity management programs. During his career Rob has worked for the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, as a crisis management consultant in Pakistan and Afghanistan where he negotiated with the UN and Pashtun tribal warlords and he served with the United Kingdom Special Forces where he operated internationally under hazardous covert and confidential conditions. Rob was also part of a disciplined and prestigious unit The Grenadier Guards where he served Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Palaces in London. Rob was a highly trained and experienced infantryman serving in Desert Storm and commanded covert operational teams and was a sniper. Rob has keynoted disaster recovery conferences and participated in live debates on FOX News regarding complex security requirements and terrorism. Rob has a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.