We the Partnership

Communicating in a public health crisis

By Samantha Donaldson | March 19, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has led most of us to reexamine how we communicate with our family, friends, colleagues and, most importantly for leaders, the public.

To quell public health fears and ensure government continues to operate effectively, federal leaders must communicate to both internal and external audiences in a timely, consistent manner. Here are some tips to help you get started: 

Deliver a clear external message. Convey messages with maximum transparency and minimum delay. Gather insights from all appropriate stakeholders and develop a clear, concise and holistic message that captures your agency’s response to the current situation. Not only will this calm the general public, but it can also address pressing questions from your workforce and ensure that critical operations continue as planned. 

Communicate consistently. Don’t expect anyone to read your mind. To build trust and accountability as a leader, communicate consistently with your employees—more than you typically do. People may get incorrect information from neighbors, families or other sources that don’t have correct information or aren’t keeping up with important changes in the ever-evolving situation. Mitigate potential confusion by making sure you’re updating both internal and external audiences in a timely, consistent way.

Reassure your staff. Federal workers are faced with tremendous uncertainties right now, and many are on the front lines responding to the crisis. Send your employees daily updates that are both informative and comforting. Remind them of the actions agency leadership is taking to confront the crisis and offer a platform to solicit ideas and feedback about your agency’s response.   

Be patient. Check in with your colleagues and understand that not everything is going to go as planned for the near future. Getting used to teleworking can be challenging, and employees may have to work out initial kinks. But with time, you and your workforce can find ways to collaborate and continue operations.

In this uncertain time, your employees and the general public are looking to you for guidance and comfort. Prioritize and strengthen your communication efforts. You will set an example for your entire workforce.

Have any crisis communications tips for federal leaders? Reach out to us on Twitter:  @RPublicService and follow our Twitter Moment for coronavirus updates!  

Check out our other blog posts on communicating during the COVID-19 pandemic below:


Samantha Donaldson