The County Voice

Leadership in Times of Tragedy

The recent officer-related shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the subsequent unrest in the city reminds us of how difficult it can be to respond when tragedy strikes our communities. Although we hope that our communities never have to face such a crisis, it is important for leadership to be prepared to respond to unforeseen and unfortunate tragedies. Two articles from the Institute for Local Government “A Leader’s Role When Tragedy Strikes,” and “When Tragedy Strikes: A Leader’s Role, Revisited,” offer guidance to local officials when faced with having to respond to tragedy.

“A Leader’s Role When Tragedy Strikes,” discusses the strategies outlined by the Center for Disease Control in its publication, Crisis & Emergency Risk Communications by Leaders for Leaders (“CERC guide”). The article covers several of the topics that the public wants to hear about from its leaders during a crisis. It explores expressing empathy and reassurance, providing prompt, reliable and trustworthy information and communicating the agency’s plan of action. The article also offers examples and suggestions for how to successfully communicate provide information to your community.

“When Tragedy Strikes: A Leader’s Role, Revisited,” further explores the topic of communication in response to tragedy and discusses why sometimes discretion, as it relates to divulging incomplete or misleading information, is the right approach. It proposes a values-based approach in response to crisis, providing tips to help officials balance the public and the media’s need for information with the need for a fair and complete investigation of the event. The piece also includes an interview with crisis communications expert Joan Gladstone with suggestions on how to respond with both your head and your heart when addressing difficult situations.

Visit  to access both of these articles and related resources.  

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