Synnøve Nesse

Dept of Strategy & Management, NHH/ Norwegian School of Economics



Ms. Nesse will present an overview of her doctoral research project: Organizational crisis leadership in a multiteam context. She has conducted three empirical studies but will concentrate on the two studies based on a real corporate crisis. She studied the crisis management organization for almost two weeks while there was an ongoing a siege and terrorist attack on a production plant in a foreign subsidiary. Financial Times described it the worst attack in the energy industry throughout history. Over the course of a few days more than 40 people tragically died. Several thousand people were safely evacuated.

The crisis management organization – at large consisting of more than 350 people –  handled issues such as negotiating with terrorists and governments, evacuating personnel, taking care of next-of-kin, communication and business continuity. She observed almost 100 people and interviewed 46 people, some more than once, while they were on duty.

Her analysis of interviews, documents and observations has led her to challenge the perception of crisis leadership as a matter of traits or style (i.e transformational or transactional leadership) and crisis leadership as a case of using more or less of general leadership skills. This is the most common theoretical lens used to study crisis leadership. Instead, she investigate crisis leadership from a functional perspective. This perspective conceptualizes leadership as the responsibility for “doing what needs to be done” so that the collective can reach its goals and builds on a thorough contextual analysis.

The perspective fits well with many of the observations she made. First (study 1), there are multiple sources and forms of leadership in a crisis that all influence how leadership needs to be conceptualized. Second (study 1), leaders are confronted with some unique challenges that requires them to attend to at least five leadership functions, of which some are performance- and some are interpersonally oriented. Individual personal traits or style are not likely to be as helpful/disruptive to the process as not fulfilling these functions though one or multiple leaders.

Third (study 3), collective response in a crisis is guided by rapid, frequent and dynamic power shifts. Power shifts are useful in avoiding response inertia as more resources can be deployed simultaneously by relying on many semi-independent units. These power shifts are enabled by a trained organization, plans and procedures for a scalable and flexible organization, and a strong corporate crisis management culture. Power shifts between units are further contingent upon external and internal demands, unit capacity and unit reputation within the multiteam system.


Biography: Synnøve Nesse is an Industrial PhD in her final year at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administation, Strategy / Management dept. She is a psychologist (McS at Lund University in Sweden, 2008) authorized by the Norwegian Health Authorities as well as by EuroPsy (Specialized in Health as well as Organizational & Work Psychology, EU, 2013). She also holds a BA in Administration Science (UiB). Her research interests include crisis leadership, multiteam systems, training and development, and research methodology. She has experience from crisis management consulting, (i.e. development, assessment and selection of board members, corporate crisis leaders and platform managers), as crisis psychologist, and as a strategy and organizational developer. Her PhD project has gained recognition by national as well as international researchers.

Research areas: Crisis leadership, Building Crisis Leadership Capacity, Interventions, Field studies

Selected articles/conference papers:

  • Selart, M., Johansen, S. T., & Nesse, S. (2012). Employee Reactions to Leader-Initiated Crisis Preparation: Core Dimensions. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-8.
  • Nesse, S., Salas, E. (2013) Right from the Start: A Corporate Crisis Team Leadership Intervention (accepted for presentation at SIOP, 2014)
  • Nesse, S. (2014) Corporate Crisis Leadership (accepted for presentation at International Symposium on Process Organization Studies, 2014)
  • Nesse, S (2013) Trust in Crisis Leadership in the Wild (accepted for presentation at FINT, 2013)
  • Selart, M., Schei, V., Kirchreiter, R., Nesse, S. (2012) Consensus principles in group decision making: Seeing more and seeing differently (in process of review, accepted for presentation at IACM, 2012).

Selected Advisory/Consultancy Assignments: Synnøve Nesse has worked with more than 50 organizations as a psychologist/ consultant in crisis management. Examples: Statoil (2009-ongoing), Bergen kommune (2011-ongoing), Aker Solutions (2010-2012), Kværner (2011-2012), Baker Hughes (2009-2010), Gas de France (2010-2012), Odfjell Drilling (2009-2011), TV2 (2010), Statkraft (2010), Lindås kommune/Nordhordland interkommunale kriseteam (2008-2009).

Affiliations: Synnøve Nesse is a guest member of the UC Berkeley Centre for Catastrophic Risk (2014) and has visiting scholar arrangements with Berkeley Haas Schhool of Business (2014) and Insitute for Simulation & Training, UCF (2013, 2014). She is a member of the Norwegian Psychological Association, the American Psychological Association, EuroPsy, SIOP (Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology). She coordinated and co-Chaired the symposium “Leadership When Lives Depend on It” with 14 collaborating researchers at SIOP 2014 Her PhD is financed by employer Falck Nutec, Statoil, the Norwegian Research Council and NHH. Her postdoc will be conducted within the project “Crisis Leadership in Complex Organizational Contexts”.


Meeting Recording (link coming soon)

Meeting Presentation (link coming soon)

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