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What is an Incident Commander?

What is an Incident Commander?

The Incident Commander (IC) is the primary decision maker during a major incident. Their job is to delegate tasks and listen to input from subject matter experts to ultimately bring the incident to resolution. They are by default the highest-ranking individual on any major incident call, regardless of day-to-day rank. The decisions made by the incident commander are final.

Your job as an Incident Commander is to listen to the call and oversee the incident Slack room in order to provide clear coordination, recruiting others to gather context and other important details. You should not be performing any actions or remediations, checking graphs, or investigating logs. Those tasks should be delegated as you should focus on the greater incident as a whole.

An IC should actively be considering next steps and backup plans at every opportunity, in an effort to avoid getting stuck without any clear options to proceed. The main job is to keep things moving towards an eventual resolution.

How to Become an Incident Commander

Becoming an incident commander requires substantial training and experience. It is important to have these basic qualifications before considering the role of incident commander:

  • A business understanding of what your service or product does for its users.
  • The ability to accept and consider advice swiftly and efficiently.
  • The ability to make quick decisions in a chaotic environment.
  • The ability to take and maintain control during any level of severity.

It’s important to read up on incident management and an incident commander’s role. One of the best ways to learn is to shadow a current incident commander for a one-week shift. This will help you gain experience and give insight into how incident commanders handle incidents and what it’s like on the front lines. In order to practice what you’ve learned, have a current incident commander reverse shadow you for a week. You will be the one responding to incidents and taking calls, but the other incident commander will be there in case you need help.

Skills Needed

There are certain skills needed to be an incident commander. These skills, detailed below, are necessary to build and grow in order to be a successful Incident Commander.

Ability to Follow Process

It’s critical for a company to have a process in place when incidents arise. An incident commander should know how to follow this process and how to enforce it during an incident. Process guidelines can range from mobilizing stakeholders to external communications, and everything in between.

Effective Communication

An incident commander needs to know how to communicate clearly and effectively, giving as much detail as possible, so there is no confusion in terms of the makeup of the incident or the processes needed to resolve swiftly. An incident commander also needs to be able to delegate tasks, coordinate, and give instructions across all key stakeholders. The communications process is often handled during the incident itself to provide status updates to users, executive leadership, and other key stakeholders.

Time Management With Intention

An incident commander needs to use time boxing when delegating tasks. This involves informing people when to expect a check in regarding their progress on a task and remember to give people more time if they ask for it. When major incidents involve various technical teams and other cross-department communication, is it critical to ensure teams have time to not only execute on their responsibilities, but give other teams time in order to progress towards a resolution.

Proactive Listening

Be flexible. Although the incident management process is important to follow, every incident is different, so it’s necessary to listen to advice and make decisions that will keep the incident moving to its eventual conclusion and be able to evaluate the risks and rewards of each decision you make.

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Being a competent and effective guiding force during an incident is the difference between minutes and hours of downtime and dollars lost. However, an incident commander is only as strong as the resources they are given. If a company has a poor incident management process, it can be difficult to solve incidents efficiently and effectively.

To learn more about being an Incident Commander, check out PagerDuty’s Incident Commander documentation today.