Leadership in times of crisis

Michael Langley, a Board Member of the Port Arthur Historical Site Management Authority, provided his views of the pressures on leadership in times of crisis in light of the events that occurred at Port Arthur on the afternoon of 28 April 1996, and in the 13 months to the present time.

"No one wants anyone else to go through these experiences, but the fact is, they will," he said. "If any of this provides reinforcement for an existing practice, or provides a basis for some further development in the field of leadership in a time of crisis, this paper will have justified itself."

He said that a crisis intrudes into every corner of life and it can take over all other activity. It overlays the normal tasks of work and time of leisure, going beyond the experience of individuals.

"Businesses suffer, incomes are reduced, relationships are bruised and end, jobs are put off, people drink too much, do not eat properly and so forth," he said. "The expectations that Government and the community have of those who are caught up by events such as Port Arthur, are very great. It is essential that ample resources are made available in anticipation of the need, and not in response to fading cries for help.

In turning to the issue of what the Board has learned, Michael Langley said that what was experienced by the Management Authority could happen to any organisation, be it government or commercial. He said that where a crisis of similar magnitude occurs, three fundamental learnings can be drawn from their experience.

  • A single over arching authority must be established for the duration of the crisis and post crisis period with full responsibility for coordinating all activities arising from the crisis and holding delegated authority to call forward and employ State resources.
  • Post crisis planning must make provision for the supply of additional management resources that are required by businesses and organisations within the crisis area in order that they will remain viable.
  • The need for support by individuals to whom the responsibility of ongoing crisis leadership falls, must be recognised, and met.

"A crisis must not be allowed to destroy those whose misfortune it is to have been, to be and to continue to be, in the wrong place at the wrong time and in the wrong job," he said. "When the crisis occurs, a structure must be put into place immediately that will employ and make available, as necessary, the full resources of the State for the duration of both the crisis and post crisis periods."

He concluded by saying that the first tier of crisis leadership rests very heavily on those who are there, therefore it is vital to take special care of leaders - the Mayors, General Managers and other community leaders.