Leadership in crisis management according to DIN ISO 22361

In May of this year, Klaus Bockslaff and Martin Schnauber took part in the annual conference of Plattform e. V. – Menschen in komplexen Arbeitswelten with a presentation entitled “Leadership in crisis management according to DIN ISO 22361”. Plattform e. V. has now published a conference volume with a documentation of all contributions. This can be ordered on Amazon as an e-book or paperback. You can find the article by Klaus Bockslaff and Martin Schnauber below and here for download.

Objectives and content of ISO 22361

The new standard is essentially aimed at management with strategic responsibility. The emphasis of the new DIN ISO 22361 lies in its methodology and in the fundamental question “How do I proceed in a crisis? If I have nothing left, do I at least have a procedure, a basic structure?”

The aim of developing ISO 22361 in the period from September 2019 to November 2022 was to provide guidance for organizations of all kinds on an exemplary approach to crisis management. Strategic decision-makers are to be supported in developing and maintaining “crisis management skills”. This applies to all phases of crisis management: from planning and operation to continuous improvement.

The standard is intended both to help develop an organization’s crisis management capability and to explain the context. The challenges of crisis management, including recognizing the complexity that a crisis team faces during a mission, are highlighted, as are successful communication during a crisis and learning from the crisis.

Building crisis management skills

In order to develop and maintain a crisis management capability in any organization (company, public authority, public corporation, foundation, association, institution, etc.), some elements of crisis management and the crisis management process must be defined and described.

Leadership is not only required in crisis team work, but is also an essential task of top management in setting up, operating and improving crisis management. Therefore, the involvement of top management is crucial in order to reconcile the objectives of crisis management and their tailoring with the strategic direction and core values of the organization. Top management defines the strategy and objectives and communicates the importance and benefits of crisis management top-down.

Furthermore, top management is responsible for the organizational structure, appoints the necessary functionaries, defines their resources and powers and provides guidelines for information and communication as well as quality assurance and the transfer of know-how in the aftermath of crisis management.

The organization should promote a culture among employees that is designed to identify organizational risks by reporting minor incidents that may escalate (increasing risk awareness and resilience) in order to increase commitment to crisis management. This requires open communication of visions, goals and targets, as well as associated training and exercises.

The development of awareness, knowledge and skills leads to a positive attitude towards crisis management. To this end, both the actual handling of crises and training courses and exercises are to be systematically reviewed and evaluated. This operational learning leads to continuous improvement in crisis management skills.

The crisis management process sets out guidelines for anticipating, assessing, preventing and minimizing damage in the event of a crisis. For the process, the readiness of the crisis organization (alerting and availability), the response with the process organization, the recovery (return to “normality” taking into account strategic opportunities with regeneration of the organization and plans for further development) as well as continuous improvement by means of debriefing, learning from the crisis and implementation of the findings must be described.

Leadership in the crisis

Chapter 7.3 examines the various facets of “Leadership in crisis”. A diagram shows which key leadership skills and characteristics are required for the work of the crisis team, in particular for the management of the crisis team. From this compilation, a requirements profile specific to the respective organization can be extracted for each crisis unit function, which can be used when selecting personnel to fill the function. Matching the requirements profile of the respective function with the performance profile of the candidate leads to the best possible appointment to the function. If necessary, further education and training requirements can be derived.

Fig. 7.1: Skills and abilities for leadership in a crisis

For example, the requirement described by G. Hofinger and C. Becker “For managers whose tasks include staff work, corresponding competencies should be part of the selection criteria or be developed in a targeted manner” can be fulfilled if the requirements from ISO 22361 are used consistently.

The standard writes: “The ability to lead effectively in a crisis should not be assumed or taken for granted as a consequence of an individual’s appointment or status. Managers who review their training and development needs may find crisis management skills useful. It is important to recognize that some people are not equipped to handle crisis situations and enforce crisis management, which can be identified as part of their training and exercises.”

The standard addresses a very sensitive point with these statements. The success of a team’s work depends largely on the management’s ability to promote the “solution-finding skills” of the entire crisis team. What kind of personality does someone need in a crisis situation, a situation in which they don’t know a solution in order to lead their team to success? This is probably the fine art of crisis management, not just working through a checklist, but working with the crisis team to find a sensible and good solution. Meeting requirements such as “emotional intelligence” is a major challenge.

Strategic decision-making during the crisis

In Chapter 7.4, the standard describes strategic decision-making in the event of a crisis. The particular value of this chapter lies in the clear emphasis on the difficulties of decision-making. It not only lists the factors “why decision-making can be challenging” but also the “dilemmas, delays and avoidance of decisions” and “problems in decision-making”.

For the actual work of the crisis unit, i.e. the “Effective Decision[1] Making”, the operational procedure of staff work, as described in Chap. 5.3.5 “Reaction” is of central importance. The core requirement for the approach of a crisis management team in the event of an incident is not to allow itself to be driven into spontaneous reactions by the dynamics of the situation, but to design the process in such a way that it is possible to move from reaction to action and thus “get ahead of the situation”.

What is new in the standard is the fundamental recognition of the management cycle in crisis management. This serves to control the work of the crisis team in the event of an incident and to provide it with a procedural framework. In a situation in which the staff initially does not have a concrete solution, the necessary individual tasks, which are the basis of regulated staff work, should be run through in helpful steps.
Mastering a systematic process based on a clear analysis of the given situation is the necessary foundation and begins in the initial or chaos phase with the procurement of information and the definition of necessary immediate measures.
Such a crisis management cycle based on “Figure 5 – Strategic decision-making in a crisis” from the standard is shown in Fig. 7.2 is shown graphically. The individual steps are explained briefly:

Fig. 7.2: Management cycle in the crisis unit
  1. Alerting: After the decision on the further handling of a possible crisis in the crisis unit, the staff members are convened and the staff work begins.
  2. Situation: Establishing the situation and creating situational awareness; the following factors in particular must be clarified when analyzing and assessing the situation: What is going on, what are the effects, what are the problems, what are the risks? Development of a common mental model. Based on an impact analysis, the crisis team defines options for the best, worst and most likely course of events.
  3. Alignment: After identifying the relevant problems: What is the desired end state? What overarching values and priorities will serve as a foundation and guide? In line with this, the crisis management team defines the objectives, taking into account the organization’s guidelines for crisis management.
  4. Options: The crisis team develops various options for action and evaluates these, including the advantages and disadvantages and the respective challenges, with regard to the desired end state. The result is a prioritized list of possible measures.
  5. Decision: The crisis unit makes a decision or choice in line with the strategic priorities and values of the organization.
  6. Commissioning of measures: Taking into account the overall objective, the prioritized options and the various functional perspectives, the crisis team defines and commissions the measures required to resolve the situation and achieve the desired end state (incl. documentation and determination of responsibilities and deadlines).
  7. Review: The crisis management cycle is completed by carrying out an analysis of target achievement and reviewing and assessing decisions and their implementation, as well as continuously monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of the measures. Observed strengths and weaknesses are identified and opportunities for improvement are pointed out. The cycle is repeated until the end of the crisis is determined.
  8. Conclusion of staff work: The recovery phase involves overcoming the effects of a crisis and returning to “normality” or adapting to new circumstances if changes in the organization become necessary after the crisis.

Review of crisis management in accordance with ISO 22361

The crisis management of an organization can be audited in accordance with ISO 22361 and / or subjected to a maturity analysis (GAP analysis). The documents submitted are evaluated in accordance with the requirements of ISO 22361. The degree of fulfillment of the defined requirements is assessed on the basis of defined criteria. A comparison with the desired target state then leads to the GAP analysis.

After the target value has been defined by the organization to be tested, the evaluation is carried out in 20% steps from non-existent (0%) to ad hoc (20%), intuitive (40%), defined (60%), managed (80%) and optimized (100%). The result of the GAP analysis is shown in a network diagram (see Fig. 7.3).

Fig. 7.3: GAP analysis crisis management

SWOT analysis of DIN EN ISO 22361

DIN EN ISO 22361 was subjected to a SWOT analysis.


  • The standard provides a comprehensive text on the subject of crisis management
  • A clear distinction is made between incident and crisis management
  • It is applicable to all organizations of any size
  • Focus on the importance of leadership in a crisis
  • The personal demands placed on managers are very strongly emphasized
  • Particular emphasis is placed on the importance of strategic decision-making in a crisis
  • Decision-making principles include a stringent management cycle


  • The descriptions in the standard are sometimes very extensive and occasionally redundant
  • The interaction between several staffs (e.g. local / regional / global) of an organization is not included
  • The requirements for the digitalization of crisis teams (hybrid / fully online) are not included
  • The differentiation and interaction of the various management systems BCM, RM, NM, ITSCM, integrated management systems, etc. are not explained


  • ISO 22361 transcends national and state borders and is therefore internationally applicable
  • An organization’s crisis management can be audited in accordance with ISO 22361 and / or subjected to a maturity analysis


  • The requirements in the standard are formulated too “softly”: e.g: “shall / should”, which makes certification more difficult
  • There are no accredited certifiers yet


It is to be hoped that ISO 22361 will find widespread acceptance. But this will probably not happen without friction. This is because the new standard shifts the focus of consideration away from the question of organizational structure and towards process organization.
The DIN ISO 22361 standard strongly emphasizes the importance of leadership in a crisis and personal requirements. The importance of strategic decision-making in a crisis is also emphasized. The decision-making principles set out there contain a stringent management cycle to be followed.
However, the new standard also leaves open areas for action. A particular strength of crisis management is the possibility of using a procedure in an unknown and very demanding situation. The aspect of “finding solutions in an unknown situation” is hinted at in the standard, but could be emphasized even more in the challenges.
In recent crises, organizations have gained a lot of experience with digital crisis management. The modern requirements for digital crisis management and remote[1] operation have not yet been taken into account in the standard. They should be taken into account in further development. The opportunities and difficulties that can arise from the digitalization of crisis management need to be considered.

Another challenge is the internationalization of crisis management. Rules must be drawn up on how cooperation should take place at several locations within an organization. It must be clarified what can be regulated locally or coordinated centrally. The necessary procedures must be defined.


When observing the current situation, the following points stand out:

  1. The challenges for an organization’s crisis management during the Ukraine crisis, for example, are much more complex than during the coronavirus crisis.
  2. The importance of crisis management in companies and organizations has improved significantly as a result of this experience.
  3. In particular, the importance of a structuring methodology has become established.
  4. The challenges of “leadership in a crisis” must be clearly distinguished from “leadership in the line”.
  5. There is still life in the companies / organizations outside the crisis room and after the crisis.

In the future, crisis management systems are expected to be aligned with the requirements of ISO 22361. Experience with the current crises in these turbulent times will provide the basis for a stringent management methodology to prevail and be described appropriately in suitable manuals.

Modern crisis management tools will use the possibilities of digitalization beyond alerting solutions and will be linked in a “network of systems”. This creates the basis for meeting the requirements of modern crisis management with its enormous challenges.

Finally, the new ISO 22361 standard offers the opportunity to measure and audit the degree of implementation of its requirements against an internationally recognized standard. The discussion with the argument that “we already have everything” could thus be ended.