Senior Leadership vs Incident Commander During Significant Events

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Last month, our informal poll indicated that while only 27% of respondents currently use a dedicated incident management team, 60% of you said that they SHOULD be in charge of a major restoration event. And while 27% said Senior Leadership takes over, only 10% said that Senior Leadership SHOULD take over.

If that’s the sentiment out there, then what should Senior Leadership really be doing? What is their role during significant events?

Should Senior Leadership be deciding things like how many crews get moved where? Or what feeder lockout should be dealt with first? Or how many gas mechanics to bring in? Or who will be crew guides for the mutual assistance personnel?

The Incident Commander (or the person in charge of a significant restoration event) and his/her team must focus their attention on bringing closure to an event as quickly and economically as possible. They must not be distracted with outside interference.

The irony here – and the caution – is that “outside interference” could actually come from your own Senior Leadership, when they really need to “run interference” against potential outside distractions.

What are some of those outside distractions?

  • Financial – the impact of the event on financial ratings and Wall Street
  • Governmental & Community Relations – elected officials and community representatives, impact on the local economy
  • Regulatory – state commissions or regulators
  • Media – talking to and monitoring the media
  • Employees – impact on employees, safety and labor agreements

These are important issues but your Incident Commander should not be distracted by them.

Forgive the sports analogies, but imagine Vince Lombardi being asked to negotiate with the Players Union just after kickoff of a playoff game. Or Joe Torre being beset by local officials about the traffic problems caused by Dodger Stadium – in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game. That’s what the “Front Office” is for. Senior Leaders are in the best position to look at the situation from the “Skybox” and deal with it accordingly.

Senior Leaders must make the decisions that have big financial impacts; like, should customer outages last another 5 days? Or should they spend an additional $1 million to bring in more mutual assistance personnel to shorten the outage? When bad news has to be delivered, Senior Leaders must act as the spokespersons. They are the leaders of the corporation and they have the credibility in the eye of the public. Senior Leadership reports to the board of directors and the shareholders, so they have to be prepared to explain why and how the corporation financials have been affected by extraordinary events. When commissions and regulatory bodies schedule hearings in the aftermath of such events, they want to talk to corporate decision makers and have them explain the corporation’s performance.

Perhaps the most important issue of all is keeping safety pre-eminent in the minds of employees, so senior leadership must keep the corporate focus on safety during these events. Senior Leadership should be the Incident Commander (or person in charge) of corporate-level events, like a company financial crisis (Wall Street lowering a credit rating). Unfortunately, there are bound to be events like oil embargoes or Three Mile Island incidents. Those events are so unique and impactful that only senior leadership has the skills to deal with them.

The French have a saying: “To each his own.” That translates into any language, including Incident Command and Corporate Management. In other words, the appropriate experts need to address the issues each are best suited for. Let Leadership concentrate on true leadership problems. And let the Incident Command teams handle the incidents.

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