Research areas

Thematic research areas for PhD positions in Leadership and Command & Control.


  1. Staffing
  2. Situational/operational picture and situational awareness
  3. Systems for leading
  4. Leadership and governance challenges in times of climate change and disasters
  5. Leadership, identity and power in crisis management organisations
  6. Collaboration in defence, crisis management and security
  7. Leadership during demanding conditions
  8. Leadership and context: the impact of the environment
  9. Officer of tommorrow
  10. Open research area

Contact: Stefan Annell (

The international security situation has worsened, most recently following the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile other threats also increase, such as organized crime and climate changes. To counter the situation, Sweden has decided to put the total defence in order. The total defence include military and civilian organizations, such as the Armed Forces, the Police, local fire brigades, and county administrative boards. Following this, these organisations need to hire a large number of individuals, while at the same time retaining their highly skilled personnel. This on a labour market characterized by high competition for skilled personnel. Thus, well-functioning staffing processes will be essential to strengthen and to lead the Swedish total defence.

Staffing is an overriding process that includes several sub processes. It’s about identifying the demands of new personnel, how to attract suitable candidates, how to select the most suitable candidates while unsuitable candidates are screened out, how to get new personnel introduced and trained, how to get good working conditions and challenging tasks that fosters motivation, retention, and sound health among personnel, despite demanding working tasks. Accordingly, staffing is essential for well-functioning organizations, and thus an important aspect for leaders to consider.

Since many years, the Swedish Defence University conducts extensive research on staffing of both leaders and personnel. As a PhD student within this research area, you will have opportunities to conduct a PhD-project that spans one or several parts of the staffing processes, in one or several organizations within the total defence.

Contact: Ulrik Spak (

Situational/operational picture is a highly up-to-date and prioritized theme in the research area of command & control (C2)[1] and collaboration. Situational/operational picture is, for example, designated as a central development area by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) in an ongoing major development project.

The proposed PhD project would be focused on investigating the use of situational/operational picture within the framework of the various activities of the C2 process. A specific focus may be the relationship between situational/operational picture and situational awareness/understanding, i.e. how the situational picture as an artifact can support one or more ("team"/group) decision-makers to understand a large-scale crisis or war situation. This may involve, for example, supporting the delimitation of outcome spaces, the creation and choice between courses of action, and descriptions of desired goals.

Two possible perspectives regarding the use of situational/operational picture in the C2 process consist of a producer and consumer perspective, i.e. creation and utilization. A further angle is the possibility of using situational/operational picture to support collaboration between different actors in defense, crisis management and security.

An overall approach for the PhD project could be how the characteristics of the situational/operational picture partly affect the effectiveness of various sub-activities within the C2 process but also for the C2 process as a whole, i.e. the influence of the situational/operational picture on direction and coordination.

[1] For those who may be unfamiliar with the term command & control (C2), it is similar to management within the field of defense, crisis management and security.

Contact: Ulrik Spak (

Today, there are no overviews regarding systems for leading within the Swedish crisis management system. The project would therefore contribute, among other things, to filling an important gap in the research area of command & control (C2) and collaboration.

The proposed PhD project would be focused on investigating key aspects of leading among a selection of national, and possibly also international actors, in defense, crisis management and security. For example, the sample may represent categories such as: local, regional and national levels of C2. Furthermore, categories such as a response/operation perspective compared to a more continuous perspective may be relevant. Private versus public activities, as well as with or without elements of antagonistic threats, can also constitute appropriate categories.

The central aspects of leading that are investigated can consist of descriptions at both an abstract functional level but also at a more concrete form level, i.e. how different actors' systems for leading are actually constituted. Systems here refers to methods, organization, personnel and technical support systems. Finally, collaboration is also an aspect that could be studied, i.e. how actors with the help of agreements (not formal mandates) can together achieve effects and objectives to deal with, for example, a larger crisis situation. Common to the different aspects is that the focus of the survey is primarily on a systemic or organizational perspective.

An overall purpose of the project may be partly to validate existing and central models/theories for leading. Partly, the descriptive overview can form the basis for the development of improvement proposals, i.e. how relevant actors can lead more effectively – a design perspective.

Contact: Helena Hermansson (

Global warming has catastrophic consequences: melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and more frequent and intense weather extremes. Droughts, sky falls and storms cause forest fires and floods but also increased refugee flows and armed conflicts. Moreover, global warming threatens the existence of important species, habitats, and ecosystems. While the already existing climate-related challenges must be dealt with here and now we are also in need of a social transformation and innovation to be better prepared for the challenges ahead. Complex and intertwined sets of problems, like disasters and other detrimental effects of climate change, puts certain demands on governance and leadership. Good governance and leadership is essential for guiding diverse sets of actors in cross-sectoral collaborations and for creating fruitful conditions for societies’ ability to prepare for and tackle risks and vulnerabilities related to climate change and disasters. For instance, the most vulnerable groups in our societies have contributed the least to global warming yet they still bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. At the same time, they are the most underrepresented groups in decision-making fora concerning climate change adaptation. Many of these groups also harbor neglected but important coping strategies embedded in traditional or local knowledge.

By focusing on governance and leadership in the context of climate change and disasters, the project aims to advance our knowledge on disaster risk reduction and also to contribute to enhancing societies’ ability to prevent and cope with natural hazard risks in the national and international context. Governance and leadership should be understood widely and the level of analysis may for example be the international system, the national political/decision making level, as well as regional or local governance and/or leadership level.

The PhD student will be part of a network of scholars associated with the Centre for Natural Hazard and Disaster Science (CNDS), an interdisciplinary research centre bringing together researchers from The Swedish Defence University, Karlstad University, and Uppsala University focusing on disasters, disaster risk reduction, and crisis management.

Further reading:

Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Working Group II Contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

Crosweller, M. & Tschakert, P. (2020). Climate change and disasters: The ethics of leadership. WIREs Clim Change

Gram-Hanssen, I. (2021). Individual and collective leadership for deliberate transformations: Insights from Indigenous leadership. Leadership, 17(5), 519–541

Mintrom, M., & Rogers, B. C. (2022). How can we drive sustainability transitions? Policy Design and Practice, 1-13.

Red Cross Red Crescent Movement’s five ask to world leaders

Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Barnard, P., & Moomaw. W. R. (2019). World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency. BioScience, 70(1), 8–12.

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030

Contact: Sara Bondesson (

Many organizations are marked by power imbalances and inequalities. Previous organizational theory and research has shown how structural factors and organizational culture hinder female leaders. Social-psychological research has demonstrated how women, and persons with other marginalized identities, may both be perceived as and self-identify as less competent, although objective measures point to equal skill levels.

Likewise, feminist and gender studies have shown how social orders of power may affect whether people with marginalized identities are seen as credible or worth listening to, irrespective of actual competencies. This in turn affect the level of self-confidence among people with marginalized identities.

Leadership is one crucial factor for whether social power orders are produced and upheld, or challenged and changed, and is therefore of importance for organizational- and leadership theory focusing on inequality. Crisis management organizations may be fertile grounds for producing and reproducing social power orders and inequalities, since they are often marked by strict hierarchies, pre-determined routines and command and control structures and are often male-dominated, both in terms of number and in terms of masculine social norms.

Previous empirical studies have shown that gender equality work such as gender mainstreaming within crisis management organizations have been met with resistance; something that has been studied both structurally and individually. Yet, there is need for more systematic research focusing on the relation between leadership, organizational culture and inequality. Organizational culture is interwoven with social power orders and leaders’ ability to alter them. This is a complex phenomenon to study, since it may shift over time and organizational units, but also since all leaders are part of a dialectical relationship with followers.

Contact: Helena Hermansson (

Research in this area aims to increase knowledge about collaboration and management in defence, crisis management and security, as well as how they contribute to crisis preparedness.

Researchers and practitioners in the field of disaster and crisis management agree on the importance of collaboration, both in terms of preventive work and in managing various societal crises. Collaboration as a concept and practice, on the other hand, is far from straightforward. A large number of investigations (the Estonia disaster in 1994, the tsunami in 2004, the forest fires in Västmanland in 2014 and Hälsingland in 2018 and most recently the Corona pandemic in 2021/2022]) have revealed shortcomings in the Swedish crisis management system. These shortcomings can be related, among other things, to a lack of cooperation due to unclear roles and distribution of responsibilities as well as insufficient trust. Similar patterns have also been demonstrated internationally, outside Sweden's borders.

Research on collaboration is on the rise and more and more researchers are also interested in management and collaboration in the field of defence, crisis management and security. Although the field is approaching consensus regarding conditions and obstacles to collaboration, there are still knowledge gaps regarding, for example, the impact of various contextual factors on collaboration (political system, administrative culture and level, subject area), effects of collaboration and the connections between collaboration processes and outcomes, as well as leadership. Other issues, which are also relevant in light of Sweden's re-establishment of the total defence, concern collaboration between different types of actors such as civilian, military, state and voluntary. How can collaboration be organized and led?

Research on collaboration has traditionally been conducted using case studies. A further challenge for collaborative researchers is thus how the knowledge obtained should be aggregated/accumulated, which is why studies that weigh together knowledge from several cases are in demand in the field.

Contact: Sofia Nilsson (

Successful military and civilian crisis leadership, in a dynamic and unpredictable environment, puts great demands on leaders. Sometimes leaders have to make decisions during critical conditions and insecurity in combination with stress, with the risk of large consequences; material damages and individuals’ health and well-being. Sometimes this is a relatively common component in the everyday life of military or civilian crisis leaders.

In practice, leaders in this type of situations are often subject to a complex combination of different stressors. High demands at work may cause so-called low intensive, accumulated stress that may follow after, for example, having spent time in high-risk intervention areas. This may be reinforced by more or less acute events that are characterized by isolated (sometimes repeated) confrontations with episodes of an extreme psychological character. Some of these strains might be even more aggravated if involving a moral conflict or a moral dilemma, making the individual having to act contrary to deep held values and standards.

This research area emphasizes leadership and decision making in terms of leaders’ short- and long-term psychological effects in various combinations of stressors (or stressful events), and why intense stress experiences sometimes result in long-lasting psychological ill-health, as for example post-traumatic stress disorder or moral injury, and others in psychological maturity and growth.

Consequences of poor leadership before, during and after stressful situations are likely to involve lasting psychological disturbances at the individual level, immediately reduced operative ability and may have unfavorable effects onto staff supply. Analyses of similarities and differences in these regards between leader positions at different hierarchical levels (direct and indirect leadership) are of importance as well as considering gender as research shows that women and men tend to exhibit different reaction patterns.

Central leadership concepts include stress, personality, self-efficacy, gender, work identity, value-system, emotion culture, performance, reintegration, resilience, well-being and health.

Contact: Erik Berntson (

Leaders are affected by their environment and have to relate to the external context in which they operate. To be a commander, manager and leader in the Armed Forces means to work in, and prepare for, a context characterized by great uncertainty, crisis and war, i.e. leading under extreme conditions. At the same time, it also means working in a peacetime organization, with a focus on education, development and organizational changes. A vast majority of leadership research has focused on leaders as individuals, emphasizing abilities and behaviors. However, the meaning of context is of great interest to understand the effectiveness of leadership.

In previous research, the matter of context has been acknowledged as the physical and social environment where leadership is performed. Such environments could be studied as contexts that leaders have to adopt to, or situations determining human and organizational behavior. In the suggested research area, focus is on organizational prerequisites for leadership. Prerequisites are factors of an organization that facilitates or hindrance leadership. In this respect, it is relevant to further investigate the impact of for example organizational changes, work load, resource allocation, support from higher management levels and communication within the organization. It is also relevant to further investigate the significance of organizational culture, climate and the impact of the work group on leadership.

Taken together, in a changing security situation it is important to further investigate and understand, not only the impact of leadership behaviors, but also how organizational structures, culture and group dynamics affect leadership and form the prerequisites for managers and commanders to lead an operation.

Contact: Erik Berntson (

Leadership and command and control in combat is described by the Swedish Armed Forces as the core of the military officer profession. This means that an officer should be able to formulate goals and plans for how the organization's resources and capabilities are to be used so that the desired result is achieved; make decisions and provide guidelines, as well as initiate control and follow-up.

At the same time, we know that contemporary and future working life will pose great challenges for an officer. A newly graduated officer is expected to be able to handle situations characterized by ambiguity, complexity and unknown parameters. In addition, the situations are characterized by high workload and time pressure as well as threats to life and health, which entails enormous consequences in the event of poor decisions. Another factor that has proven important is the technological development, where cyber, hybrid warfare, and the development of autonomous systems have accelerated the uncertainty and complexity for an officer to create a good situational/operational picture and make the right decisions.

The research area Officer of tomorrow focuses on the qualities, abilities and competencies that are of importance to meet the demands and threats of the outside world, but also how the military context develops over time. To increase our knowledge of this, studies are required that both concern individual characteristics, how to work in teams and how to understand and create an organization and a management system for an officer to work within. Examples of questions are how individual abilities can be developed and influenced, the importance of group dynamics and processes for the ability to lead, or how good organizational conditions and a functional command and control environment are created that enable decision-making by an officer?

Contact: Roar Espevik (

In this tenth research area, we want to make it clear that you who apply for a doctoral position can write a research plan in an area of your choice. Your overall research question and the theme of the dissertation must be relevant to the subject of Leadership and command & control, and fall within the scope of our subject description.