A Leader During a Crisis

person placing chess piece on board

Tips to help navigate through a crisis

By Phil Cadman, PT, DPT

Crises come up for every leader of a physical therapy clinic at one time or another. They come in different shapes and forms. If you’re managing an outpatient physical therapy clinic, you will likely be in charge during a crisis at some point during your career, whether it be an equipment breakdown, a natural disaster, or the loss of a key employee through resignation or retirement.

By practicing the skills covered in this article during a crisis, leaders can guide their employees, their patients, and their clinics to a smooth landing on the other side.


When a crisis hits, the first step for a leader is to evaluate the situation. Some things to consider include who is involved, what the prognosis is, who is affected, and what the next steps to deal with the problem need to be. A leader needs to consider not only what the short-term effects will be but also what is at risk long-term.

If the evaluation of the situation isn’t done well, the rest of the steps taken to solve the problem won’t be effective. Therefore, it’s essential to take the time necessary for an effective evaluation. Where do you turn when you as the leader do not have the knowledge or skills to fix the current situation? One great resource, as we well know, is the Private Practice Section (PPS) of the APTA, whether you consult articles previously published in Impact (“Choosing A Business Coach” from the November 2021 issue, for example) or reach out directly to other PPS members with expertise in the areas in which you may have questions. Additionally, you can reach out to your personal network, chamber of commerce, and local business community for assistance.


In a crisis, managers need to communicate in a timely and clear manner to ensure employees understand what happened and what they need to do in response to the problem. Giving employees confusing information during an already stressful time can worsen circumstances, so make sure everything you’re sharing is accurate and concise.

Additionally, you should keep an open channel of communication. It is important to listen to the concerns of both your team and your patients to effectively support them during a crisis. Once they have been heard, it is necessary to address their concerns, or they will stop coming to you, because they will begin to feel that nothing will be done if they voice their concerns to you. It is also important that both employees and patients are kept informed and understand the effect the crisis will have on them and what leaders are doing to address the situation.

Resources to assist in improving your communication skills are available to leaders in online courses on platforms like Medbridge or the LAMP Institute for Leadership available through the APTA.


Transparent communication is the best way to maintain the trust and loyalty of not only patients but also employees. One common mistake leaders make is to wait too long before communicating important information. This practice can cause more harm than good. People might start devising their own conclusions, and the gossip mill will spring into action, because your staff will naturally begin to talk amongst themselves before you’re able to share the information yourself. A lot of times this is born out of fear, and it can be fixed with clear and regular communication. The form of the communication can vary depending on the size of the group that you need to communicate to.

When relaying information, share what you do know and what you don’t know. Even if you don’t have all the answers or solutions, explain what you and other leaders in the company are doing to get the information and subsequent action items and what the timeline will be to provide them.


During a crisis, leaders need to stay flexible. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, what you hoped to delay needs to be pulled forward and what you had planned needs to be pushed back. Though you may have a strategy in place, things can quickly change and force you to shift toward new ideas and timelines. This flexibility and willingness to adapt helps leaders avoid creating unnecessarily stressful situations and allow for finding a better solution rather than trying to force the original plans.


To effectively manage through a crisis, leaders should be understanding but assertive when communicating. You should also provide your team with clear direction while maintaining a positive attitude and encouraging everyone to work together during this stressful time. Having the right attitude can help motivate employees to come together, assist in the solution, and reduce undue anxiety.


Nothing causes more panic among employees than someone in a leadership role spiraling out of control during a crisis. Though crises can be stressful, you must remain calm when addressing your team. Remaining calm requires you use available resources to assist in developing your strategy to combat the crisis and insists you pull your staff together to assist. They are uniquely qualified to navigate through the process because they are in it with you, and they know the culture well.

By demonstrating self-control and calm, leaders can be rational with their decision making and work more effectively to find a solution rather than frantically trying to fix the problem without the appropriate level of focus. 

Phil Cadman, PT, DPT

Phil Cadman, PT, DPT, is the owner and ¬CEO of Premier Physical Therapy Services in Cincinnati, OH. He currently helps run the day to day operations of two clinics with 24 employees. He can be reached at pcadman@premierpts.com

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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