Leadership under fire: How governments manage crisis communication


Crisis leadership is fundamental to preventing, preparing for, managing, and learning from crises. Despite leadership during crises being heavily reliant on communicative processes, the research record predominantly reduces crisis communication leadership to managing organizations’ images. To contribute to limited knowledge on leadership communication during crises, we interviewed 24 U.S. government leaders and conducted a content analysis of U.S. government communication leadership during a major wildfire. We find that crisis communication leadership involves crisis perceptiveness, humility, flexibility, presence, and cooperation. We offer a message catalog of crisis response options for government leaders, and show how leaders employed some of these messages in response to a large-scale wildfire. This study expands the state of the art in crisis communication leadership research with implications for theory and practice.