Professionalism is one of the most widely used words and fervently discussed topics in our industry at the moment.
Pilot and air traffic controller professionalism appeared in a recent top 10 list of the United States National Transportation Safety Board’s most wanted transportation safety improvements, and has been the focus of their forums on a number of occasions. Our colleagues at the United States ALPA and the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers' Associations constantly refer to the importance of professionalism and the upholding of ethics within our communities; and the Asia Pacific Airline Training Summit (APATS) conference in September last year had the overall theme of Identifying and Developing Professionalism in the Global Aviation Workforce.
Appearance, decisiveness, initiative and an unselfish attitude are essential elements for building our reputations as consummate professionals. Our ability to make the right decisions comes from technical competence built up over years of training and experience. Equally though, professionalism relies on our ability to effectively manage relationships and interactions with others. For pilots and air traffic controllers, who tend to be highly precise, analytical, data-driven and individualistic people, relationships and interactions are also very challenging. We are taught to make decisions and be decisive.
This can be challenging in corporate environments where commercial planning and decision-making processes involve many meetings, discussions, committees, PowerPoint presentations, emails, and announcements, but very few hard-and-fast decisions. Proposed decisions bounce around the company - from team to individual, up and down the hierarchy, horizontally across the chain of command - the details and consequences changing as different stakeholders weigh in with their opinions. This often results in an inability to make any decision at all, let alone a timely decision; or it ends with a decision that has the support of very few. This all reflects our natural human tendency to avoid conflict.
Decision-making is fundamental in our professional lives. Every day in aviation we make decisions. Some are small and innocuous but the majority of our decisions affect people’s lives, livelihoods, and well-being. Trained proficiency in decision making is core to our profession but when mirrored towards the teams that we work with and answer to, the tension that is created between the two leads to inevitable conflict.
Unfortunately, many business leaders are not good at decision-making as they are not proficient or trained in this skillset. As pilots and air traffic controllers we often believe we are seeing management teams making decisions that work against our standards and expectations. In reality what we are seeing is no decision being made at all.
NZALPA is not here to teach management teams about decision making processes. There are good universities and courses that will do that.
What we can do however, is identify issues and ensure that our relationships are at a level that allows us to ensure decisions that are made, are timely and correct. Paralysis by analysis only results in frustration for highly precise, analytical, data-driven individualistic professionals.
Technical competence is unarguably the foundational element of professionalism in aviation, but just as important is the requirement to communicate and manage relationships – which we focus on during our crew resource management training. The equally important side of professionalism is the crossover into the softer side, requiring an ability to effectively manage relationships and interactions with others.
NZALPA recognises these requirements and established two very effective and influential professional standards programmes (one each for pilots and air traffic controllers) which allow for intervention when conflict is identified. In reality this is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, as other organisations have a more formal code of ethics. USALPA has its code of ethics published on its website for all members and NZALPA members can read this HERE. This is something NZALPA will consider in more detail as we look to improve our own professionalism.
Recognition and acknowledgement of different working styles is the first step towards accommodating differences and facilitating good decision making. Only then can we achieve progress in working together and making advances that will benefit our industry.
<< January/February 2020 General Manager's note >>