Everyday PR

Traits of a Good Crisis Manager

When I worked in corporate America, I had many sleepless nights waiting to see the first headlines of the day as my employer was often the subject of less-than-flattering news.  By the time I got to the office, senior executives were running around like their head was on fire - like that would be helpful.  Sadly, managing the crisis du jour often was determined by what the media said or didn’t say on the morning news, which became exhausting. After a few of these, I finally realized what a bad crisis management strategy that was and changed my ways.

A crisis means some will run around as of their head is on fire. Sadly, they can't help themselves.

 Today’s crisis situations can change by the hour.  A politician is caught doing something stupid; a company unexpectedly files for bankruptcy;  a community leader is busted; a natural disaster strikes; the list of potential crises is endless.  Recent research shows that the traits of a good crisis manager just happen to coincide with the traits of a good leader, not a surprising thought for PR war horses like myself, but perhaps a heads up for those making decisions about leadership positions.

Fortune recently published an article called What Makes an Ideal Crisis Manager?  that cites Justin Menkes, author of the recently published book Better Under Pressure.  He concludes that the people who are going to thrive in the future “are those who can use the pressure (of a crisis) to excel and who have translated very difficult circumstances into opportunity.”  Hmmm….

Per the article, the three key characteristics of a good leader and crisis manager are:

Realistic optimism. Exceptional leaders demonstrate an ability to understand the actual circumstances of a crisis and see a chance to excel. 

*  Finding order in chaos. This combines calmness, clarity of thought and a drive to fix the situation. It requires practice to stay clear-eyed and fearless when the world is tipping. It also requires zeal to solve a puzzle by engaging your staff.

*  Subservience to purpose or corporate goals.  The commitment to the higher calling or the greater good can make a huge difference.  By encouraging a team to come together around some important goal, it cultivates tenacity and encourages collaboration.

Some execs will still run around with their head on fire as they can’t help themselves, which makes a crisis communications plan all the more important.  However, those managers who prove themselves to be exceptions to the rule by working well under pressure will survive – and thrive.

Are there other traits of a good crisis manager and leader?

Category: Crisis Communications

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4 Responses

  1. Kim Phillips says:

    One thing that frequently happens in a corporate crisis is an inappropriate response, or a response via an inappropriate channel. CEOs will often try to solve a PR problem with advertising, or feel they can dictate to the media what they can and cannot say. Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, the internet takes over and you'll all done. The first piece of advice to a CEO about public perception is: if you don't want them to talk bad about you, don't give them anything to talk about.

    • Susan Hart says:

      So true! It’s all about organizational operations. If you consistently provide a needed, reliable product/service AND frequently communicate with your key stakeholders, the level of hysteria is dramatically diminished. But like you said, CEOs often take a short-sighted viewpoint or medium due to varying pressures. Why can’t we just run the world?! Thanks for commenting.

  2. Susan — great post. Timing is good, I am teaching a class for ASU and we just finished talking about crisis communications. One of the things we talked about was the importance of the simply having a crisis communications manager — someone who includes this important role in their job description. Yes, quite often it will be the pr professional, but there are so many others in today's business world that have the ability to communicate — perhaps we all need to add that responsibility to our job descriptions.

    Going to share this post with the class.

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