4 Must-Have Crisis Management Skills for Healthcare Leaders

4 Must-Have Crisis Management Skills for Healthcare Leaders

Few skills are more essential to healthcare organizations today than effective crisis management. Even before Covid-19, these skills that were increasingly in demand. But in the wake of the pandemic and amid escalating threats of natural disasters, cyberattacks and other disruptive events — the need for strong crisis management skills is more urgent than ever before.

So, what can leaders do to better develop the leadership skills needed to guide an organization through a catastrophic event? How can they nurture and cultivate this expertise, both personally and within the organizations they lead? Lastly, how are those skills different from risk management and other issues of corporate governance?

To answer these urgent questions, discover the insights of four crisis management skills that every healthcare leader should have in a post-Covid world.

What Is Crisis Management?

First of all, what’s the difference between crisis management and risk management? And why does this distinction matter?

Crisis management is the process of preparing for, and dealing with, catastrophic events. Traditionally, crisis management focuses on natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, all of which are increasing in severity. In recent years, however, the list has grown to include other risks like terrorist attacks, cybersecurity breaches and international pandemics.

Crisis Management vs. Risk Management: What’s the Difference?

Risk management, on the other hand, focuses on ensuring that an organization can actually survive them. In other words, risk management secures an organization’s operational and financial structure against potential disasters, while crisis management is actually dealing with those events.

Any of these disasters can lead to operational breakdown or outright failure. They can also cause financial insolvency (for instance, failing to fulfill agreements with vendors or creditors). Effective risk management means protecting an organization against the most dramatic of these failures. In addition, crisis management means mitigating a disaster’s immediate effects. This includes before, when and after it happens.  

Successful long-term corporate governance requires solid skills in both risk and crisis management. But given the increasing frequency of disasters, most organizations focus on crisis management as the more immediate concern. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the most important crisis management skills that today’s healthcare leaders should have.

Checklist: 4 Crisis Management Skills for Healthcare Leaders

#1: Planning & Preparation

It may not be possible to truly prepare for every conceivable outcome of every potential crisis. But it is possible to prioritize a general state of preparation to best handle the most likely contingencies. So, effective preparation for a crisis means understanding and addressing the likely consequences, rather than successfully predicting each cause.

In practice, that means outlining worst-case scenarios, as well as a number of contingencies for each. For instance, how should a facility react if it loses access to certain key personnel? Or, what happens when utilization among a certain type of patient surges to emergency levels? How should you react if you suddenly lose electricity, or our ability to communicate with certain groups?

Leaders should address these questions in a formal disaster plan, which every facility should have. But it takes leadership to create that plan, and to make sure it’s properly carried out during a crisis. Leaders also need expertise to asses it on a regular basis, and to lead the process of yearly re-evaluations. Ultimately, it’s the leader’s job to make sure the disaster plan actually works when it needs to.

> Related: Double-check your crisis plan with our disaster preparedness checklist.

#2: Situational Awareness

Ensuring that a disaster plan can and will actually work in the moment requires a clear understanding of the facilities it’s meant to serve. This skill is known as situational awareness, or a leader’s level of knowledge about the organizations they oversee. It’s essential not only for building a working disaster plan, but also actually managing a crisis as it unfolds.

For instance, a leader who’s truly skilled in crisis management will be able to gauge the impact of a disaster in real time, on a moment-to-moment basis. And the scope of that awareness must include every facility, every department, every floor, and every manager. An instinct for leading isn’t enough here. It takes time and effort to achieve the deep familiarity needed to make the right decisions as a crisis unfolds.

#3: Adaptability and Improvisation

Because a crisis or disaster is inherently an existential threat, a leader’s reactions must be fast and decisive. They should have the confidence to make decisions and take action without a moment’s hesitation. And doing so requires not only on situational awareness, but also the ability to adapt in the moment.

Also known as effective improvisation, adaptability is essential not only for dealing with a crisis, but also for managing people at a time of extreme confusion, uncertainty, or even panic. The ability to make effective split-second decisions requires emotional control, and a calm acceptance of events. It also requires leaders to project confidence to help instill that sense of calm in the teams they lead.

Successfully carried out, this skill may look like instinct. But in reality, leaders can develop and nurture adaptability, just like any other skill. It also requires a sense of discipline that comes from reflection and practice (as well as extensive rehearsals).

#4: Communication

As we’ve seen above, successful crisis management skills require effective coordination of every department, whether directly or indirectly. However, a leader’s ability to pull this off depends largely on their power of communication. Not just on a person-to-person basis, but also across the entire organization and patient base, and in the form of general announcements as well as specific directives.

Yes, some people possess natural communication skills. But it’s also a trait that can be learned and developed. Effective messaging and relationship-building can be honed with time and practice. And this can be done even more effectively in a group setting — not just between leaders and their direct reports, but also among other teams and groups within the larger organization.

Rehearsing a facility’s reactions to disasters is another effective way to develop communication skills. Leaders can help ensure a plan’s success, and that everyone involved understands one another when it matters most, with regularly practicing various scenarios.

In addition, leaders must communicate effectively not just with staff and patients, but also with a variety of other people. For example, leaders may need to update their communities during a crisis. They’ll also want to keep vendors, corporate partners, and the news media in the loop. Being able to do so with empathy and effectiveness is a distinct and important skill.

Support Your Crisis Management with CareerStaff

When it comes to crisis management, your best bet as a leader is to take every precaution. Having a reliable contingency staffing strategy can help ensure that you’re ready for any outcome, including normal fluctuations in utilization. In addition, partnering with a reliable workforce solutions provider can provide the resources needed to help ensure your crisis management efforts are successful.

At CareerStaff, we’re proud to offer all this, and much more. Get help navigating today’s workforce challenges with award-winning, Joint Commission-Certified services. Contact us to learn more about our solutions. Or, get started by requesting contingency staff today!

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