CMT 101: Crisis Management Team Roles

Richard Long

In last week’s blog, we shared our “8 Tips for Building a Good Crisis Management Team.” This week we’re going to take a closer look at Crisis Management Team roles.

Generally speaking, crisis management teams have a specific function and some roles that are universal (for example, each team must have a designated leader and communications, admin/logistics, and business or functional representation). The role of the Crisis Management Team is to manage events and ensure appropriate actions are carried out based on current impacts of the event, as well as potential risks and impacts.

Multiple crisis teams may exist, with each activating and providing guidance depending on the situation. For example, IT may have a crisis team that activates related to actual or potential IT-related outages, with no other area even being aware.

The concepts and roles apply to any level of crisis team, but for this blog, we are focusing on a corporate level crisis management team to oversee and manage events that have a corporate-level impact.

How should your organization set up its Crisis Management Team in terms of the roles and departments represented?

In today’s post we’ll break down the main players or roles that should be included on your team—and note what each person will contribute toward managing the crisis.

Before we dive in, however, here are a handful of overall points that apply to all roles:

  • People on the CMT need to have a global view of the organization as well as a good understanding of the potential impacts and needs of their specific area.
  • Apart from the leader, people on the CMT act as advocates for their area; they gather information on that area and make sure the impacts to it are understood and given due priority. They lead or direct the recovery or actions for the area.
  • In large organizations, each of the areas would likely be filled by one person. In medium and small organizations, the roles might be doubled or tripled up. The important thing is making sure that each area has someone assigned to look after it.
  • CMT members are not expected to have all the information for their area of responsibility in their head. However, they should know where to get their hands on it quickly should the need arise.
  • Each CMT member is an advocate – the one who ensures each area’s risk and impacts are addressed and considered. They must also be able to consider the overall impacts and understand when other areas or issues take priority.

The above applies to everybody on the team.

Below are the individual areas that need to be covered on the team, and notes on what each person in that role typically does. (This list varies from last week’s in a few details, but the core content is the same.)

  • Leader. The CMT Leader manages the team, provides for the safety and well-being of employees, and facilitates the timely resumption of business operations to minimize the impact of the emergency on customers and shareholders. The leader is the team facilitator, not dictator, encouraging discussion and debate to ensure that important matters receive due consideration. He or she keeps the group moving forward, then guides the members toward decisions which have broad support. It’s important to remember though that the leader has the final authority and may be required to make a decision quickly and with limited information. There should also be a designated alternate to take over if the primary leader is unavailable.
  • Administrative Support. The Administrative Support person is responsible for supporting the CMT Leader and members. The admin performs a function similar to that of the character Radar O’Reilly on “M*A*S*H”: they know where everything is and how to get things done. They take notes, keep track of action items and open issues, and know how to obtain food and transportation, line up hotel rooms, keep everything moving, and make sure nothing is missed. Without an efficient and highly competent Admin Support person the Crisis Management Team will not be as successful or effective. Do not under estimate this role.
  • Finance & Administration. The primary function of the person in this role is to manage the organization’s financial stability during an event. He or she understands the impact of the crisis on finance and accounting matters, including business process issues and regulatory compliance and reporting. In order to help the organization weather the crisis, this person might make such decisions as raising credit limits or delaying reporting.
  • Human Resources. HR is responsible for the development and implementation of services designed to support affected employees during and after the event. The person covering the HR area would be responsible for temporary staffing, benefits issues, or bringing in grief counselors. The HR person is also involved (in coordination with other departments such as Communications) in keeping employees informed about relevant aspects of the crisis; for example, they might notify the employees that overtime requests are approved for the next two weeks.
  • Information Technology. The primary function of the IT person is to coordinate and provide context and information related to the IT impacts associated with the event or actions. They direct the IT team as it works to restore information systems and networks affected by the event. If the crisis impacts IT, the IT person communicates these impacts to the larger team. He or she would also inform the team of the likely impacts on IT of any decisions and actions taken to deal with the crisis. For example, if the crisis management team was considering shutting down a building, such as during a fire, the IT person could advise the team as to what the impact would be on the organization’s computer systems and processes.
  • Legal. The member of the crisis team covering the Legal area provides advice and legal support to all CMT members with regards to liability, communications, lawfulness, prudence, and legal ramifications. They can advise on whether certain strategies under consideration are permissible under the relevant laws or regulatory controls. They might advise the team about such legal matters as the need to protect evidence.
  • Operations and Business Recovery. The Operations role serves as the liaison between the CMT and the business recovery teams. The person on the crisis team covering this area is likely to have a lot of input in the actions of the team overall. He or she can provide the team with information on how the crisis is impacting the organization on the ground, at the retail stores, distribution centers, or manufacturing facilities. They can help the team evaluate proposed courses of action from the Operations point of view. As an example, if changing the distribution center schedule is necessary, Ops can address the downstream impacts.
  • Project Management Office. The PMO supports the CMT through understanding the impact of the crisis (and any steps taken to deal with it) on the various projects the organization has underway. He or she can advise the team on which projects can be stopped or delayed with minimal impacts and which would bring higher impacts.
  • Risk, Security, and Compliance. The person on the team covering these areas will be the advocate for the teams dealing with risk, compliance, and security at the organization (including physical and data security). He or she will work closely with local, county, state, and federal law enforcement and investigative agencies. This person can advise the team on whether any contemplated actions might put the organization out of compliance with regulations from OSHA or other agencies. From the security point of view, they would make sure the team attends to the security impacts of proposed actions. For example, if someone wanted to leave the exterior doors in a facility open for some reason, they would point out the need to station people there to protect those entrances.
  • Facility Support. The Facilities team is responsible for conducting a Damage Assessment and identifying affected infrastructure and the extent of damage caused by the event. The person on the team covering this area makes sure that issues related to the organization’s buildings are given proper consideration. He or she attends to such issues as whether the buildings are safe and accessible and whether it’s necessary to move employees to other facilities.
  • Marketing and Corporate Communications. The person on the CMT covering this area considers the impact of the crisis and any proposed responses on the marketing and communications functions. He or she works with other departments such as Legal, Operations, and Human Resources to ensure consistency in communications throughout an event. This includes communications to staff, shareholders, the media, and maybe even Wall Street. This person tackles such issues as, for example, what to communicate and to whom if the crisis causes loss of life.

Whether you have a big Crisis Management Team, with each role being assigned to a different person, or a smaller team, where each member handles multiple roles, these are the basic functions that need to be taken care of to make sure your crisis team is effective.

If you have these areas covered, by capable people (see last week’s blog for the kind of people best suited for working on a CMT), you will increase the likelihood that any crisis that confronts your organization will be a bump in the road rather than the end of the road.

crisis management team