How to Lead in a Crisis

cohort of MSc Strategy, Change and Leadership at University of BristolThe overall focus for leaders in a crisis should be to create organisational resilience. Covid-19 is an unpredictable environment in which organisations look not only to survive but thrive.

We asked our Head of School, Professor Palie Smart, to provide her top 5 tips for those leading in a crisis.  

Compassion, empathy and humanity

Consider the situation of all stakeholders to understand how the crisis and disruption is changing practices and causing harm. Specifically focus on the health, wellbeing and protection of people in more vulnerable and disadvantaged situations. 

Re-framing strategy for a more progressive approach 

Protect business continuity and seek opportunities for enduring change. This is a time to be innovative and re-evaluate future business priorities. A crisis can be a ‘burning platforms’ to drive innovation and ultimately, enduring and positive change. 

High trust 

Engage a trusted team to prioritise essential decision-making and emergency action. Follow-up with wider and democratic consultative processes prior to implementation. 

Collective mind

Less hierarchical structures can encourage mindful attention and heedful action for local entrepreneurship. Crisis is better managed by a common mental architecture i.e. “where we all know what is important”, but which empowers local agency to “do the right thing”. 

Ambivalence and emotion 

Learning and adapting to a new normal means considering preventative action going forward. This process will invoke emotional ambivalence in considering trade-offs, tensions and alternative world views, but provide opportunities, build personal and organisational resilience. 

Professor Palie Smart

Palie is part of the team of world-leading academics delivering our MSc in Strategy, Change and Leadership. Palie’s earlier research has focused on High Reliability Organisations that seek to create organisational resilience with Professor David Denyer, Professor of Leadership and Organisational Change.  

Their work follows the seminal works by Karl E. Weick, Kathleen M. Sutcliffe and David’s recent work on Responding to the Coronavirus Crisis: A Strategic Approach to Building and Strengthening Organisational Resilience. 

Why study the Executive Strategy, Change and Leadership progamme?

Our flagship part-time Executive MSc programme is for senior managers who want to improve their ability to manage change and uncertainty and increase their leadership impact in these challenging times. The MSc is 2 years part-time however you can start, if preferred, with the PG Certificate which can be completed between October 2021 and March 2022.  

The programme is structured to work around your demanding role and busy lifestyle, and the Certificate is taught in 4 blocks of 2 or 3-day workshops on Thursdays, Fridays and/or Saturdays.  There’s the option to move on to the Diploma and the MSc whilst studying the PG Certificate.  

Contact us now at to find out more or visit our website to apply for a place this autumn to join our ninth cohort.