A study of over one hundred experienced crisis managers proposed 14 traits that are required for effective leadership in a disaster.

These crisis leaders were asked to provide examples of “very good” and “very bad” leadership characteristics, drawing upon their own experiences. The study participants were selected from different countries and different agencies, such as police and other emergency responders, the airline industry, governmental organisations and business leaders.

The top three leadership traits were:

  1. Knowledge and experience
  2. Listening skills
  3. Decisiveness

These three characteristics are fundamental for effective crisis management. Additionally, the following traits were also highly ranked: Open mindedness, capacity for analysing and critical thinking, problem solving skills and good communication skills. Following is the list of the top 14 positive qualities that emerged from the study, in no specific order. A good crisis team leader should be:

1. Coordinated
An effective leader 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 the incident. Hesitation or reluctance to act undermines effective leadership.

3. Experienced
Leaders should have broad field experience to draw upon. In a management group with many new and inexperienced leaders, it is important to increase the experience level using systematic training and realistic exercises.

4. Goal-oriented

Effective leaders are able to create plans based on short-term and long-term goals. The leader sets specific tasks and assignments to meet those goals and follows through to achieve them.

5. Able to communicate
Effective leaders provide and solicit key information. They maintain an open and honest dialogue with colleagues in complex 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 manage stress effectively, remaining calm, stable and focused in chaotic and stressful situations.

8. Able to listen
It is imperative that leaders are good and active listeners, with the capacity to digest a large amount of information and different perspectives. Effective crisis leaders are able to grasp, process and assess others’ ideas.

9. Open-minded
An effective leader is open to different perspectives, willing to “think outside the box” when considering solutions to complex situations and understand that an event can be interpreted in different ways.

10. Responsible
An effective leader takes ownership and responsibility for the execution of the preparedness plan, ensuring that the whole team gets recognition. During the incident, the leader supports the team and shields them from disruptions.

11. Able to prioritise
An effective leader must be able to prioritise which tasks need to be dealt with immediately and which tasks are important to enable further decisions and solutions.

12. Able to think critically
A leader should have the capacity for critical and analytical thinking. This involves defining, analysing and understanding the unique complexity of each crisis. Leaders should be able to envision both intended and unintended consequences of a solution. This requires well-developed assessment and visualisation skills.

13. Adaptive
An effective leader should have the capacity to adapt and respond to unique aspects of crises and changing circumstances. This requires flexibility and adaptability.

14. Trained and prepared
Effective crisis leaders must have thorough knowledge about the organisation’s contingency plans and recovery operations. Leaders must have knowledge of function, responsibility and tasks of all participants in the operation. They also need to know their team members’ skills, competencies and personal traits.