What is an Incident Commander?

What is an Incident Commander?

In ITSM and DevOps settings, an incident commander (IC) plays a crucial role in managing and resolving critical incidents. When faced with complex and high-impact issues, businesses need a designated leader who can take charge, coordinate response efforts, and restore normal operations efficiently. Incident commanders are vital for modern businesses, as they ensure an effective coordinated response, which minimizes downtime and protects customer experience.

What is an Incident Commander?

An incident commander is an individual responsible for leading and coordinating the response to a critical incident. ICs are the central authority who makes critical decisions, organizes teams, and oversees the entire incident response process. While the term is commonly associated with IT and DevOps, the concept is not unique to these fields. Incident commanders can also be found in emergency response teams, such as firefighters, where they take charge during crisis situations.

Reasons to Have an Incident Commander

Having an incident commander is crucial for effective emergency response and management. An incident commander is responsible for maintaining control, providing effective leadership, and coordinating resources during emergencies. This ensures a more efficient and successful response to incidents, minimizing the impact on customers.

Without an incident commander, organizations may face challenges, such as lack of coordination, delayed decision-making, inefficient resource utilization, and confusion among teams. These can prolong incident resolution and increase the negative impact on business operations.

Responsibilities of an Incident Commander

As the key figure in incident response, the IC bears the responsibility of coordinating and leading the efforts during critical incidents. Their role encompasses various crucial tasks that are vital for an efficient and effective incident resolution. Below are a few of the most important duties of an incident commander.

Centralized Leadership

During high-stakes and high-stress incidents, the incident commander provides a clear and centralized chain of command, managing chaos and maintaining focus. This individual is responsible for making critical decisions, directing resources, and coordinating the overall response effort. Additionally, they provide clear instructions, keep the team motivated, and ensure that everyone understands their functions. With a single leader at the helm, there is less likelihood of conflicting directions or disjointed actions, helping the team make rational decisions and perform effectively under pressure.

Incident Preparation

An incident commander ensures that the necessary preparations are in place before an incident occurs. This includes determining standard communication channels and procedures, establishing protocols for incident response, and identifying and assembling the right teams and resources, when possible.

Efficient Decision-Making

Prior to making critical decisions during an incident, an incident commander should gather all available information, assess the incident’s scope and priority, and analyze the potential impact of different courses of action. This ability to act decisively can prevent further escalation of the incident and mitigate its impact.

Delegating Tasks

The incident commander acts as a unifying force, ensuring that all teams involved in incident response work together towards a common goal. The IC is responsible for delegating tasks and ensuring everyone involved has a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, facilitating efficient collaboration and effective incident resolution. They promote effective communication, facilitate knowledge sharing, and foster a culture of collaboration, enabling teams to work cohesively and resolve incidents efficiently.

Overseeing Operations

An incident commander has the responsibility of overseeing the operations during an incident. They monitor the progress of activities, coordinate efforts across teams, and ensure that the incident response is on track. By having a holistic view of the incident, the incident commander can identify bottlenecks, address issues, and keep the incident response moving forward.

Escalation & Resource Coordination

In situations where an incident requires additional support or senior management intervention, the incident commander is responsible for escalating the issue appropriately according to company policies. These policies guide the systematic progression of alerts to prevent delays and minimize downtime.

Incident commanders also ensure that the necessary resources (e.g. technical expertise, equipment) are available to resolve the incident effectively. This resource coordination helps prevent duplication of efforts and optimizes the response effort.


After the incident is resolved, the incident commander conducts postmortems with the team. This involves analyzing the incident response, identifying areas of success and areas for improvement, and documenting the lessons learned. By capturing insights from each incident, the incident commander enables the organization to refine its processes and prevent similar incidents in the future.

Be an Incident Commander

An incident commander is someone with leadership skills, great communication skills, and, typically, technical expertise. They have a deep understanding of incident command systems, emergency protocols, and best practices in crisis management. Their expertise allows for a more organized, structured, and effective response to the incident.

Some key requirements for an incident commander include:

  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Decisiveness and ability to make sound judgments under pressure
  • Technical knowledge and understanding of IT systems and processes
  • Problem-solving and analytical skills
  • Organizational and coordination abilities
  • Adaptability and resilience in dynamic environments

Companies often have aspiring incident commanders shadow experienced ones to learn the ropes and gain practical experience. This mentorship helps individuals develop the necessary skills and knowledge to handle incidents effectively.

Incident Commander Best Practices

In the realm of incident management, staying well-versed in industry best practices, emerging technologies, and the latest methodologies is paramount.

Staying up to Date with Best Practices

An incident commander should stay current with industry best practices, emerging technologies, and incident management methodologies. This ensures that they have the latest knowledge and tools to handle incidents effectively and efficiently.

Planning Early

Effective incident commanders emphasize early planning. They work on developing incident management plans, documenting processes, and establishing clear communication channels in advance. This proactive approach enables them to respond swiftly and effectively when incidents occur.

Staying Focused & Calm

Maintaining focus and composure is crucial for an incident commander. They should stay on track, adhere to the incident management plan, and guide the team towards the desired outcome. By remaining calm and composed, even in stressful situations, the incident commander instills confidence in the team and enables effective incident resolution.

PagerDuty is your platform for Incident Management  

The PagerDuty Operations CloudSM helps incident commanders streamline incident response, enhance team coordination, and minimize the impact of incidents on business operations. By leveraging PagerDuty’s unified platform for end-to-end incident response, incident commanders can ensure that they are efficiently managing urgent, critical work to protect customer experience and maintain business continuity.