Top 14 Positive Traits of Effective Crisis Leaders

Crisis leaders come from all different backgrounds and work in a wide variety of industries. Yet, research suggests that effective leaders possess similar traits and characteristics.

In my last article, Marks of a Crisis Leader, I mentioned the 3-Dimensional Model© of Effective Leaders. What this model proposes is that positive communication, positive expertise and experiences, and positive disposition often merge together to form the core of the most effective leaders. Though the identified traits are indispensable, there are also other important “marks” of effective crisis leaders.

In a national survey I asked more than one hundred seasoned crisis managers and incident management team members to consider key crisis leadership factors. The survey asked these experts to think about leaders with whom they have worked, either on a crisis team or as part of a crisis situation. They were also asked to provide examples of both “very good” and “very bad” leadership characteristics.

What follows is a list of the top 14 positive (good leader) qualities that emerged from the survey responses. A good crisis or contingency team leader should be:

  1. Coordinated: He or she should have the ability to create team cohesion, team coordination and integration.
  2. Decisive: An effective leader should be able to make the right decisions during contingencies. Any inappropriate hesitation or reluctance to act undermines effective leadership.
  3. Experienced: Crisis leaders should have plenty of field experience to draw upon. If everyone is a newcomer, it is imperative that the training regimen include plenty of mock drills, simulations and hands-on training to increase the experience level of the designated leader.
  4. Goal-Oriented: Effective leaders are skillful in laying out short- and long-term goals, setting specific objectives, making task assignments to meet those goals and following through to achieve them.
  5. Able to Communicate: Leaders provide and solicit key information, engage in two-way communication, and interact in open and honest ways with others in a wide variety of contexts and situations.
  6. Able to Facilitate: Effective leaders facilitate input from others, creating a situation in which the team makes decisions in a collaborative manner.
  7. Able to Handle Stress: An effective leader has the capacity to remain calm, stable and focused during the most chaotic periods.
  8. Able to Listen: It is imperative that leaders be good and active listeners, with the capacity to digest a large amount of information and different perspectives.
  9. Open-Minded: An effective leader is willing to “think outside the box” when considering solutions to contingency situations and has the ability to interpret and understand different ways of looking at an event.
  10. Responsible: An effective leader takes ownership of and responsibility for the resolution of a contingency and ensures that the whole team gets recognition.
  11. Able to Prioritize: Effective leaders have a sense of balance to recognize what issues need to be tackled first and which ones are most important to resolving other decisions and solutions.
  12. Able to Think Critically: A leader should have the capacity to define, analyze and understand the unique complexities of each crisis and envision both the intended and unintended consequences of each solution.
  13. Adaptive: An effective leader should have the capacity to adapt and respond to unique aspects of crises and changing circumstances.
  14. Trained and Prepared: Effective crisis leaders must be thoroughly knowledgeable of the organization's contingency plans and recovery operations, and must also be knowledgeable of the skills, capabilities and traits of his or her team members. 

Many of these “marks” come naturally to some individuals, but not so for others. That said, I have learned that it is possible to develop and enhance leadership characteristics through specialized training. Continually working to improve these skills can help crisis leaders perform better, instill leadership resiliency and inspire team members to optimize their performance during critical events.

About the Author: Robert C. Chandler, Ph.D.
Dr. Robert C. Chandler is a Professor of Communication and Director of the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida (UCF) where he leads the Center for Crisis Communication. He is an internationally recognized professional speaker and social scientific researcher with more than 150 academic and professional papers based on his research of crisis communication, leadership, teamwork, decision making, and psychometric variables during emergency and crisis communication.