The bulk of humanitarian action occurs in armed conflict settings and this will likely persist into the foreseeable future. This paper examines global level changes that have positive as well as negative implications for crisis trends, the circumstances that threaten the safety and dignity of at-risk groups, and the challenge this presents a humanitarian system that has in-built deficiencies that need to be addressed to give effect to its protection responsibilities. Structural problems include the lack of a common understanding of the essence of protective programming and the strategic measures needed to secure protective outcomes. This paper proposes that supplydriven humanitarianism – interventions shaped by what is on offer by individual agencies rather than addressing the priorities of crisis-affected populations – is jettisoned in favour of an over-arching whole-of-crisis strategic approach. Such an approach needs to be informed by the views of those at imminent risk as well as the measures they take to stay safe and increase their survival options. It also proposes a series of actions geared to strengthening the agency and leverage of humanitarian actors operating within or beyond the formal system.