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  • Writer's pictureLeeanne Carson-Hughes

The role of Governance in Crisis Management

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Effective Governance in crisis management - views of an Executive Leader

Hello and welcome to a Guide from Leeanne Carson-Hughes.

If you are new here, I am an Executive Leader with 20 years experience in a range of New Zealand business who is now an Executive coach and consultant to senior leaders. My goal is to help ambitious senior leaders gain the expertise to build successful careers and better organisations.

My executive roles at Crop & Food Research, Christchurch Airport and CityCare Group saw me take lead roles in managing a wide range of significant crises including the recovery phase of a fatal plane crash in 2003, the Christchurch earthquakes, the Christchurch Mosque shooting and more recently the national pandemic response for CityCare.

I found that during times of crisis, effective governance and the active involvement of boards play a crucial role in ensuring organisations can navigate the challenges at each stage of the crisis.

This guide highlights my perspectives on the significance of governance and boards in crisis management, focusing on the four key stages of preparedness, response, recovery and review.

Phase 1: Preparedness

Hands down the most important phase.

Preparedness is the foundation of effective crisis management. The Board’s role is to enable the establishment of relevant policies, procedures and strategies to anticipate and mitigate the impact of potential crises.

However, my experience shows that a crisis management plan or business continuity plan document alone will be of little help to the leaders on the ground in the midst of a crisis. In reality, these documents to date have provided very little that helps with the fast paced and evolving situation on the ground. But they can make great door stops!

Where the Board can add the most value in the preparedness phase is based around assurance and support that:

· Communication protocols and trained resources are well established if ever needed.

· Suitable people and material resources for emergency response would be able to be deployed if necessary.

They also fulfil a valuable role fostering a culture of preparedness throughout the organisation. They should encourage regular training and simulations to enhance employees' skills and knowledge in crisis management.

Phase 2: Response

In the face of a crisis, effective response is critical for minimising damage to lives, property, reputation and future viability.

For this phase I am sharing my views of the three things Executive teams I was part of needed from a Board in the middle of a response:

  • Fast paced decision-making by providing guidance and oversight during a crisis. Boards need to collaborate closely with senior management to assess the situation and make informed decisions promptly if governance approval is required.

  • By providing strong leadership and support, boards can help maintain stakeholder and shareholder confidence and communication. Often a letter from the Chair or Board or acknowledgment of effort is invaluable. Supporting the Chief Executive with key stakeholder communications when needed (like Ministers, Government agencies banks, insurance companies) was also invaluable.

  • Sense check and brains trust – The middle of a crisis can be all hands to the deck for operational leaders on the ground. I have valued being able to run a plan or response past clever people who have the organisation success and strategy at the heart of their decision making. This support, challenge to our thinking or confirmation provides confidence and senior leaders need this when executing as the crisis develops.

But the reality is, in this phase, many times it is actually best to get out of the way if you are not needed and leave management to do what they need to do!

Phase 3: Recovery

Recovery is the phase where organisations rebuild and restore normal operations after a crisis.

Governance and boards play a critical role in developing and implementing strategies for long-term recovery.

Boards can provide guidance in assessing the financial implications of the crisis and determining appropriate measures for recovery. They should collaborate with management to develop plans for repairing infrastructure, addressing reputational damage, and supporting affected stakeholders.

Additionally, boards can leverage their networks to establish partnerships with relevant stakeholders, including government agencies and non-profit organisations, to enhance the organisation's recovery efforts.

Phase 4. Review – linked back to Preparedness

Governors should assure themselves there is an appropriate evaluation of the organisation's response to the crisis which should identify areas for improvement and ensure the implementation of the necessary changes to strengthen future crisis management capabilities.

It all links back to preparedness.....this is the key to managing during a crisis.


In times of crisis, such as floods or earthquakes, effective governance and engaged boards are indispensable for organisations and senior leaders to navigate the challenges presented at each stage of the crisis.

From preparedness to response and recovery, the active and relevant involvement of boards ensures that the organisation can anticipate, respond to, and recover from crises efficiently.

By establishing robust crisis management practices and fostering a culture of preparedness, boards can help safeguard the organisation's reputation, protect stakeholders, and lay the groundwork for a resilient future.

I help organisations in 4 ways - lets connect if you think my skills and expertise may be of value to your organisation

I offer 1:1 Executive leadership coaching for senior leaders – I coach ambitious senior leaders all over New Zealand.

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