Why Crisis Management Must be Hierarchical

All leaders will want to be part of a strategic management team, but when it comes to crisis management, «Less is more». An over-populated strategic level (level 3) often creates confusion with the operational level (level 2) regarding roles and tasks.

We experience that managers have a hard time accepting this fact, but when a crisis occurs, a streamlined crisis management organisation is imperative  to handle the crisis effectively. 

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The principles of crisis management

To understand the concept of strategic crisis management, it is important to understand the principles for handling crises:

1.The responsibility principle

The person responsible within an area under normal circumstances also has the responsibility for taking necessary precautions related to emergency preparedness and to handle extraordinary incidents within his or her area of responsibility.

2. The principle of equality

The organisation that is operational during a crisis should resemble the day-to-day organisation as closely as possible.

3. The principle of proximity

Crises should be handled at the lowest possible organisational level.

4. The principle of cooperation

The authorities, enterprises and departments all have a responsibility to secure best possible cooperation with relevant actors and enterprises in the effort to crisis prevention, preparedness and crisis management. 

The levels of the crisis organisation

Crisis management levels_illustration_english_v3.pngThe further up the levels, the less actual work is to be done. Level 3 should not have the same workload as level 2. Also, note that both perspective and tasks are vastly different. 

When do problems arise?

This looks simple on paper and reflects best practice. In our experience, it is difficult to achieve in many organisations. Why is this so? 

Well, in fact, this is mostly a question of vanity, and as I mentioned above, the natural impulse of a manager is to be present and directly involved in the highest level in the hierarchy.

Secondly, it is about managers wanting to be where decisions are made, allowing them to take charge, show initiative and have direct influence over the short-term development – often in direct competition with the operational level (which more often than not have deeper knowledge and insight). The long-term strategic perspective is just less exciting and not in the present.

Finally, it has to do with a lack of understanding. It may not be seen as a problem, and one may think that it can’t hurt to take all aboard, or, as it is nicely put, to include as many as possible.

In an over-populated strategic crisis management team, the risk is always that members of level 3 without specific tasks, interfere with the tasks of level 2.


The most important key to success in streamlining the handling of crises is to implement the above principles in the crisis organisation and make sure they are documented in the crisis preparedness plan. It provides necessary insight and understanding of why things are done the way they are.

Furthermore, it is important that level 3 practice correctly. Those designing the sessions must ascertain that they are aimed at the correct level.

The management teams are not to practise tasks that in day-to-day operations are well handled on lower levels. Training on a strategic level may be felt to be rather dull, but it is important to make use of the right competencies e to make it meaningful. Exercises for corporate communication and press handling are central ingredients in an exercise regime on this level.

> Read also: Crsis communication: How to strengthen the reputation during a crisis

Strategic level

The entreprise's emergency preparedness organisation may face problems when challenging the management to optimally populate the crisis management team. These guidelines may be helpful in the process:

  • The CEO is also the head of the crisis management
  • The director of communications should have a seat
  • The division manager in charge of the area directly affected by the crisis should also be a member.
  • Legal expertise may be of value
  • Usually, the team needs a minute taker.

There are hardly enough tasks to keep more than four or five people occupied. It is of the utmost importance that strategic level does not take over tasks from the operational level, but rather is available for support. Remember – the strategic level keeps a long-term perspective – and is not grounded in the present.

Organization and performance are equally important

This may sound odd, but, in my opinion, during a crisis, running the organisation well is it is equally as important as crisis management. This is often under-communicated to the organisation. An inclusion in the crisis organisation is usually communicated clearly, but it is the CEOs responsibility to see to it that the organisational structure is preserved and that tasks are performed at the correct level.

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By Yngve Dyrøy

Yngve is partner at One World AS. He has more than 25 years of experience from Safety & Security, Contingency and Crisis Management. Former employers include Oslo Police, The national Police directorate, Teleplan Consulting and The Central Bank of Norway. Yngve has a bachelor's degree from Police Academy and a master's degree in Safety and Security Management from the University of Stavanger. His key qualifications are project management, risk management, crisis management, contingency planning, training and exercises.

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