How To Effectively Handle Other Peoples' Emergencies

How often do you find yourself dealing with an emergency that had nothing to do with you but became your problem? How many times have you received a crisis phone call that turned out to be no more than an issue due to poor planning on that individual’s part? If you have spent any time in the business world, you will have encountered this from individuals inside and outside your organization. So how do we effectively handle the emergencies that other people drop in our laps?

Real-life Example of a “Non-Emergency”

A recent example of a situation where a project superintendent dropped an “emergency” onto a project manager went as follows:

The project superintendent had a field issue arise and his first reaction was to call the project manager. During this phone call, the superintendent made the issue sound as though every other team member had dropped the ball, not properly planned for the issue and now the project was in jeopardy of failing. His standpoint was that the other team members were at fault and now it is the project manager’s responsibility to handle what he is calling an “emergency”. As a project manager, there were several ways to resolve the issue at hand.

  • The first reaction could have been to panic, drop every task and jump head first into resolution mode.
  • The second reaction could have been to tell the project superintendent he needs to figure it out, it is not your problem and that he needs to take ownership.
  • The third reaction, the proper reaction, would be to listen to the issue, ask questions, ask for suggestions for resolution, research the issue, determine if it is an emergency and then put a plan together on how the problem can be resolved.

The project manager followed the steps outlined in the third reaction. In doing this, he did not derail his entire day by an issue that turned out to be something easy to resolve.

By responding in a calm manner, the issue was corrected in a timely manner and in a way that did not belittle the project superintendents concerns. He also took the next important act of discussing with the superintendent steps to follow in deciding if an issue is actually an emergency.

If the above scenario had truly been an emergency, it would be our duty to jump in and assist with resolving. It would also be our responsibility as the project manager and team leader to let the superintendent know finger pointing/blaming others is not an effective response.

What do you do?

You must look at what someone is claiming to be an emergency and do an assessment of the situation. Your reaction to what someone else considers an emergency is very important since it will help effect the outcome of the situation. It is also crucial for you as a manager to be able to identify and take into account people who are crisis-prone individuals.

According to an article by Susan Whitbourne, it is important to look deeper into an emergency that someone brings to you further than face value. If the emergency is real, then it is imperative to jump in and deal with the issue head-on. If the situation is not an emergency, it is imperative to follow the outline we discussed above to resolve the issue. Remember that only you can control how you react in these situations.

As a project manager, make a practice of giving feedback on issues that turn out to be non-emergencies with the individuals who bring them to your attention. Let the person know that through proactive planning and having a resolution-based reaction to issues, they can expect better responses from team members in tough situations. For crisis-prone individuals, this will be something you as a team leader will have to work on with that person over a period and in return will build trust with them.


All of us at some point will have to deal with the non-emergency issue that someone else believes is an emergency. For us, as project managers, leaders, and team members the answer to effectively handling these situations dropped on us is to have a controlled reaction with the end goal of coming to a resolution. We must set the example for others to follow of how to deal with issues as they arise.

Action Steps

  1. Listen to the emergency/issue proposed to you.
  2. Ask questions of the presenter.
  3. Ask for suggested resolutions to the emergency/issue.
  4. Do your own research on the issue at hand if necessary.
  5. Decide if it is actually an emergency.
  6. Put a plan together and come to a resolution.

 Blessings In Your Endeavors,

Hayden Tuley

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