A guest blog by Alison Speakman, BSAVA Senior Vice President

Crisis – what crisis?

Unfortunately, recent years have thrown us all more than our fair share of somewhat sizable challenges. Whether that be global issues such as COVID or the current economic crisis, professional challenges of veterinary staff shortages, burnout, challenging clients, legislative changes, or personal issues; the ability to provide effective leadership is often frequently tested.  

To lead effectively, you must be authentic and able to maintain energy, inspiration, and enthusiasm within your team. It is important to have a connection with your team and understand the challenges they face in their daily roles. Whilst you may be the leader, you cannot negotiate a crisis on your own, the support and trust of the entire team is a priceless factor in successfully negotiating any crisis. Both dictatorial style and superheroes in capes must remain relegated to the archives!

During a period of crisis there is also often the need to implement some form of change to navigate the crisis successfully. By and large we are creatures of habit. “If its not broken, don’t fix it,” is a frequently coined phrase. As a leader, the challenge of identifying an impending (or current) crisis followed by implementing necessary change to avoid or minimise the problem can be critical to success for our team and business.

At this point there will be those in your organisation that will rapidly embrace change positively, whilst others will instinctively feel destabilised and anxious. Consequently, morale can be negatively affected if crisis management and change are not addressed in a supportive and timely manner with appropriate actions, empathy, and trust.

It would be naïve to suggest that there is a ‘perfect’ way to manage any form of crisis in your workplace/team or that it will be easy and quick to remedy. You will inevitably make mistakes along the way. However, there are a few key factors that can make the process more effective.


Beware the temptation to act on immediate instinct, as an impulsive decision may even be counterproductive. Neither is it an option to put our heads in the sand and do nothing as this will often result in a manageable crisis turning into an unmanageable one!

Effective leadership requires rapid recognition of a developing crisis and taking the appropriate time (this will vary depending on the crisis) to work with your team to assess the situation, gather information and form a rational flexible plan ensuring that the necessary infrastructure and procedures are in place. Accept that it may be ‘one step forward, two back’ occasionally. It is critical to have regular ongoing assessments of the crisis to reformulate plans as necessary. Do not fall into the trap of assuming that the initial plan is the only one you need!


Clear and timely communication is essential in building trust, cooperation, and morale. As a leader, it is vital that you acknowledge the situation and its severity, and explain clearly to your team what steps are being taken, what they need to do and why. Communication MUST be two-way so ask your team to voice their concerns, LISTEN carefully and be direct and honest in answering those concerns. It is amazing what additional insight you can gain from listening to your team. Acknowledge that there may not be an answer for everything and have a regular communication plan, even if there is “nothing new to report at the moment”. Failure to keep your team in the loop is one of the major causes of negative morale in a workplace and makes staff feel invisible or unimportant. If you do not communicate, there is a good chance that inappropriate speculation or murmurs of dissatisfaction will fill the gap!

Emotional Intelligence

This is a critical skill to have and develop for any leader. The ability to demonstrate humility, consideration, understanding and compassion for others, and resilience are vital qualities for leading in a crisis. Remaining composed and emotionally balanced can be extremely challenging in stressful situations and leaders must retain a clear head to allow rational thought processes to steer plans.

Support and Balance

Effective leaders will listen to, acknowledge and emphasize the needs of their team and clients. They should be able to offer emotional support, clear communication, and decisive direction. Crafting a compelling narrative to clarify issues and to positively unite and support the team is also important.

Whilst remaining calm and optimistic throughout a crisis, there is also a balance in maintaining energy levels, enthusiasm, and momentum.  Stay true to your team’s purpose and values.

Recovery and the ‘new normal’

How many times have we heard that phrase in recent years? Once you are through the crisis, maintain momentum by ensuring that communication and understanding of new strategies and processes is clear to the whole team. Without this, uncertainty and negative morale can start to creep in. Adjusting to a new situation both mentally and physically can present different levels of challenge to different members of the team. Ensure you check-in with them regularly and remember it is your job to help the team recover and adjust post-crisis event.

What’s next?

Just as you start to breathe a sigh of relief that you have successfully navigated the crisis, be aware that it is inevitable that another crisis will appear at some point. Hopefully that is a long way off but as calm returns, use the time to horizon scan for any potential future crises! Whilst it is impossible to foresee everything, awareness goes a long way in helping to ease future impact. What could you and your team be doing? What lessons have you learnt from the recent crisis? Are there any preventative measures that can be put in place to reduce the risk of future crisis developing?

In the words of Simon Sinek: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”

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Alison Speakman first joined BSAVA as a new graduate and has been a member ever since, joining her local regional committee in 1995 followed by Education committee and Chair, Congress committee, Honorary Secretary and PetSavers committee. Alison is a great advocate for mental health and during her presidency with the BSAVA, spearheaded the creation of the wellbeing zone at BSAVA Congress. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her family, as well as exercising, reading, and gardening.

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