Professional development is a given expectation within management. Within aviation, this expectation clearly extends to aviation-specific training. Pilots get recurrent training in simulators, maintenance technicians get recurrent training on the airframe, engine or avionics. Those who do well in those roles, and exhibit professionalism, are the ones we tap for managerial positions within the aviation department. But we do these men and women a disservice when we promote them from a technical position into a managerial position without giving them the tools they need to be successful managers.
I have seen instances where a senior captain who has done an exemplary job in the cockpit is congratulated and promoted into the aviation department manager position upon retirement of the outgoing head. What seems like a logical move turns sour when the pilot, a master of crew resource management, finds himself facing a budget cut, a problem employee, and OSHA regulatory issues in the hangar. None of these situations is addressed during engine-out training! They can get frustrated and either seek a return to the cockpit or leave for another flying position with no management duties.
The loss of a great employee such as the above could have been alleviated by providing a managerial professional development track. A great maintenance technician becomes skilled through training and experience. So does a great leader. Future aviation leaders need training and experience in the managerial arts.
Leadership. Commanding a second person in the cockpit takes special skills. But those skills need additional development for managing a large team. Corporate aviation leaders need to understand the vision and mission of the corporation and how aviation is an essential business tool. They need to know how to align their aviation department goals with the overall corporation’s goals. They then need to develop a leadership and communication style appropriate to their personality that will inspire they aviation team.
Aviation department leaders need to develop skills in operations management. This extends well beyond aircraft operations to include business risk analysis, cost benefit analysis, record keeping and audit requirements, OSHA and hazardous materials regulations, and more. They also need to develop an understanding of all the jobs involved in running the aviation department.
As part of their operations management the aviation leader is often a facilities manager. The skills at handling an emergency in the cockpit need to be extended to the hangar floor. If a major hurricane is headed towards the hangar, the pilot need to know to get the aircraft to a safe location. But the manager has the safety of all the personnel (and their families), as well as the facility itself to contend with. The maintenance technician know what to do for a hazardous waste spill, but not necessarily what to say when the press calls and asks questions.
Lastly, the aviation manager needs the remaining business management skills. The aviation manager is running a small business. They need financial skills in budgeting, forecasting, cost management, and taxes. They need to know what the record keeping requirements are and to be able to understand asset management of the aircraft and facilities.
Aviation managers need to be able to manage their personnel beyond the post-flight debriefs or mission analysis. The first person in the human resources is the manager herself. She needs to understand the corporate HR domain, and be able to communicate those to all the employees. This training combines both regulatory requirements and personnel management skills, or soft skills.
These highly technical people may have an associate or bachelor degree in business or a related field, but how long has it been since they practiced what they learned? If they don’t have that degree, they will need to be taught those skills in a formal environment, preferably with some sort of certification.
Fortunately, there are programs available for the busy professional. The local college or university likely has applicable course to the working professional. In addition, within business aviation, we are fortunate to have a customized program geared to develop aviation professionals into management professionals: the Certified Aviation Manager (CAM).
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has a certification and education program that offers credit for professional experience, college courses, and professional development programs offered within the aviation community. The CAM program is a rigorous professional certification that is designed to maximize a busy aviation professional’s time in developing the skills need to be managers in leaders.
The people in the aviation department are hungry for this type of education. This type of training needs to be encouraged and supported from the top. It should be clearly stated that this sort of managerial development is as necessary as their aircraft type rating, Pilot certificate, Airframe & Powerplant license.
I see the pilot career path progress from First Officer to Captain to Chief Pilot to Aviation Department Manager. But too often the maintenance technical career path ends at Chief of Maintenance. And even that position requires management and leadership skills. Maintenance Technicians are an overlooked source of future aviation leaders. They often have a significant understanding of the aviation operation beyond the toolbox that the pilots have yet to learn.
As Board Members and Executives, you need to promote personal development for flight department personnel, just as the company does for middle managers seeking career advancement.