‘We’re all Crisis Managers, Aren’t We?’

Do not assume disaster management is reserved for humanitarian agencies. No doubt, there’s a disaster waiting to happen, any time, anywhere, possibly somewhere near you, soon. So, what can you do about it? A lot! As specialised ‘crisis managers’, Richard Gordon of Bournemouth University’s Disaster Management Centre argues ex-officers can put their leadership skills to the test in a wide range of organisations.

What’s the work I actually want to do in my life? What do I call myself? How do I define myself in the civilian world?

These are pressing questions facing most people going through transition but it was this question that inspired Richard’s rather cryptic title – ‘We’re all crisis managers aren’t we?’

As he explains: “At an OA event, a delegate asked these all-important questions. Before the speaker could answer, another officer spoke up with: ‘Just put down crisis management – we’re all crisis managers, aren’t we?’

This immediately intrigued me. On the one hand, he is absolutely right – a career in the military automatically puts you in charge of situations of crisis and uncertainty – therefore, an officer who can deal with these crises using processes, procedures and leadership is obviously displaying crisis management capabilities.”

He adds: “It’s certainly true that any crisis will eventually cause casualties in property, environment or resources.”

So what’s the definition of a disaster? The UN defines it as: ‘human, material, economic or environmental impact, which exceeds ability or capacity of affected community to cope using their own resources.’

There are many different names for crisis management, which can make it confusing. Since 9/11 the term resilience has come in, while major incident is the preferred one for UK.

Many different threats can seriously impact an organisation – from total power loss, extended work absenteeism, terrible weather and floods. But organisations in civilian workplaces are realising they need to think wider about hazards that threaten them. With this, comes an understanding they need to plan and communicate with stakeholders. Richard says: “The skills we have can be translated to any environment. 30-40% of my time is spent with schools, colleges and media companies dealing with hazards.”

In the same way that national policy needs to decide who will be put in charge of various health, environment or public works’ disasters, organisations also have to make the same choice and decide how the business will deal with crisis in different ways.

This is where, Richard argues, YOU can come in to prevent crisis, as poor governance inevitably leads to accidents. He says: “The perfect job for you simply does not exist out there so it’s up to you to create it. That’s the exciting part, you have the opportunity to get out there and provide leadership in the area or sector you’re interested in.”

He adds: “The skills you have are vital to everyday life, whether you want to work as a bursar, in a chemical factory, or as a teacher – every one of those organisations needs you during time of crisis.”

Richard also believes it’s important to be ‘a little bit arrogant’. “Ask the organisation what steps they have taken, offer them help on a trial basis and show what you can do for them. There is nothing stopping you from taking a disaster management course and setting up your own private consultation business.”

Listen to the full webinar: We’re All Crisis Managers, Aren’t We?