By Fflur Sheppard

When crisis strikes, it can often escalate due to:

  • Mixed messages circulating internally and externally
  • Decisions being made without reputation being considered
  • Crucial time lost to internal squabbling

Have a strong and well-prepared leader at the helm, and that is half the battle when it comes to tackling a crisis.

Here’s our quick guide to ensuring your captain is not going to steer a sinking ship.


Establish who’s the boss

One of the most valuable things you can do in a crisis is help decisions get made in an informed and timely manner.

It is absolutely crucial to know who thinks they’re the boss, who others think is the boss, and who is actually the boss.

While the most senior person will be accountable, they may devolve authority to somebody else – they’re the leader in this situation. You need to know exactly who they are, and they need to not just know you, but trust you, too.


Know what they care about

Once the leader has been established, do some research. What do you know about their character?

Key questions to answer include: 

  • In a crisis, do they step back or step in?
  • Do they want lots of detail or just the headlines?
  • Do they stay calm or tend to get stressed?

And what do they really care about? How do they prioritise the following?

  • Share price?
  • Commercials?
  • Customer experience?
  • Impact on colleagues?
  • Personal reputation?

When briefing them, you need to make sure you cover covers how the crisis impacts the areas they care about most, and how your proposed response addresses that.

And finally, who influences them, and who do they trust?

  • The Chairman?
  • Long serving board members?
  • A particular department head?
  • An external agency?
  • A mentor?
  • Their partner?

Knowing who has your leader’s ear is key.  You may need to influence their influencer.


Get it in context

One of the most important tasks in a crisis is to help a leader contextualise the issue.

Compare the crisis to what they already know about: similar issues they’ve faced already, or problems your competitors have dealt with in the past.

Are things moving quickly or slowly? What else is going on at the moment, which might be relevant or a distraction from the crisis?

Explain how the crisis affects their priorities, and how it might affect them if it escalates.

And then explain how your advice on response is proportional to the crisis and its context, and how it informs, influences or reassures the stakeholders concerned.


Be Clear

We all know clarity is key. 

When it comes to briefing a leader, distinguish between facts and judgement, what’s known internally and what’s known externally, and what you’re sharing for their information versus what you plan on officially saying. 

Make it clear what they need to decide on – highlight it in red – and on what the deadlines are. Touch on the impact a delayed response could have versus responding before you have all the facts.

Only one person can be accountable for each work-stream, with maybe a few people responsible for different actions. There may be confusion about who you need to consult and who you need to inform.

A huge amount of time can be lost when people who only need to be informed of a decision think they need to be consulted.

Set out who looks after what in your area of responsibility for the crisis, and seek the same clarity from the people working on the wider operational response.

Setting it out the RACI* as the crisis is emerging, or even beforehand for big risk areas, will make your job so much easier.


*The RACI Responsibility Matrix sets out who is Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed.

For help from Crisis Management experts who will never steer you wrong, call us now on 0800 612 9890.