11 Characteristics of Great Crisis Leaders

With 17 extreme weather events, 2017 was one of the busiest and costliest years on record for disaster recovery in the U.S. If the recent weather trends continue, many areas of the country can expect to face difficult circumstances in 2018 and beyond.

Any time your business confronts a rapidly unfolding crisis, whether it’s related to a natural disaster, the weather, a pipe breaking, or a human-caused event, the stakes are high. In the vast majority of circumstances, businesses with up-to-date disaster recovery plans (DRPs) and access to effective crisis managers have a much better chance of surviving and/or limiting losses once recovery efforts are under way.

Recently, we discussed why a DRP should be a top priority. In this post, let’s explore the traits of effective crisis leaders.

11 Things to Look for in a Crisis Leader
As you could probably guess, generally speaking, good crisis managers need to be trained and prepared critical thinkers who are also very adaptive. Preparation, including gaining deep knowledge of your organization’s contingency plans and team members’ skills, serves as the foundation for everything a crisis manager will do when disaster strikes. And critical thinking skills and adaptability come into play as the crisis leader deals with the unforeseen and rapidly evolving circumstances in a disaster. Beyond these general attributes, here are 11 skills and qualities that survey respondents identified as being fundamental to effective crisis leadership:

  1. Good coordinator: The ability to quickly organize cohesive teams that are well-suited for the tasks at hand. 
  2. Decisiveness: Proven ability to rapidly make the right decisions in the face of difficult circumstances.
  3. Experience: Designated crisis leaders should have plenty of field experience or hands-on training that includes mock drills and simulations.
  4. Goal-driven orientation: Skillful at establishing short- and long-term goals with specific objectives, assigning them to teams and ensuring follow through.
  5. Strong communicator: Effectiveness at interacting with groups and individuals in a wide variety of contexts and situations, including soliciting and clearly and concisely sharing important information.
  6. Able facilitator: An understanding for how to effectively gather input from individuals and groups and facilitate collaborative decision making.
  7. Cool headed: The capacity to handle stress and remain calm and focused in the midst of chaos.
  8. Good listener: Strong active listening skills with the capacity to digest large amounts of information from different viewpoints.
  9. Open-minded: The ability to look at an event from multiple perspectives and “think outside of the box” before deciding on specific contingency plans and solutions.
  10. Responsible: Takes ownership of and responsibility for the resolution of a contingency while ensuring all key players are recognized for their work.
  11. Good at prioritizing: A strong sense of which issues should be tackled first and why based on an understanding how tasks and solutions are interrelated and the cascade effect of doing them in different orders.

One Part Nature, Several Parts Nurture 
Clearly, some people naturally possess some of these qualities and skills, such as decisiveness and cool headedness, more than others. Ultimately, however, the qualities and skills of the best crisis leaders are fairly balanced across this list. Moreover, many of the qualities and skills in this list can be developed and continually improved with specialized training. The important thing to becoming a great crisis leader is to keep working on getting better in all of these areas. 


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