View Full Version : Do Pilots make good Managers?

14th Jun 2001, 00:20
We have all been there, confronted by a Management Pilot who has NEVER done any thing else other than fly. Promoted and became a Manager. How many companies send them on courses that would help these inexperienced individuals do their job correctly?
this is also on A/C Notes but it does effect our everyday lives!

14th Jun 2001, 02:34
Boy, did you ever hit a nerve with this topic. I have a manager with marginal people skills who figures he has worked hard all his life and it is now time for the company to support him without his working. Lead by example, NOT!

14th Jun 2001, 03:20
Just a thought or two:

Surely pilots ARE managers. Or at least good pilots are good managers.

I've met inept airline managers but I've also met (and flown with) inept pilots.

I guess it takes all sorts. 'Tis the nature of this world we live in, don't you think.

Bomber Harris
14th Jun 2001, 03:59
Oh boy this is going to be a good one. Every know and then somebody posts a corker and this is really going to stir it up.

I can't resist commenting. I think (believe, opinion etc etc) the answer is that the two aren't directly related. I think flight deck skills are basically technically based skills. Management skills tend to be people based skills. But both fields require the ability to think laterally (in huge amounts).

Somebody who has the drive and commitment to make it to the flight deck (and stay there) would probably make a better manager than somebody who has stayed in an unskilled job but that dosen't make the pilot a good manager automatically, and visa versa.

I was a manager of about 80 people in a technical environment before I changed to flying as a career so I have been on the 'sharp end' and it is very hard for somebody to see how difficult it can be to juggle the emotions and needs of a large number of people while keeping the wolves at bay unless you really try it for a few years. I did a reasonale job but never found it easy. I do feel for anyone in a job like fleet manager (which would probably equate to the position I held in terms of responsibility).

However, the real juicy debate here is how many pilots have completely hoofed up in management roles and how many 'civilians' have done a good job. And, can we draw any conclusions from the stats? Are flying skills a prerequisite to manage flyers?

[This message has been edited by Bomber Harris (edited 14 June 2001).]

14th Jun 2001, 05:56
There are many managers/CEOs who are/were pilot's but did not fly the line. IE Gordon Bethune rated on 767 and flies it occasionally but not on the line. Great airline and one of the few which made a profit. Frank Borman ran Eastern/Great astronaut but did not translate into CEO skills. Juan Trippe (PAN AM founder) was a pilot but had found his skills at developing the airline were more fulfilling (financially and otherwise). Niki Lauda-you decide.
Management is half common sense and half business sense. One you were born with and the other you learn or at least have the common sense to hire good people who do. Unfortunately, managers are not always hired for the business acumen but rather their political skill in getting the job. In the final analysis, the company culture comes from the top and he/she will be the model for all other managers.

14th Jun 2001, 06:39
This same topic is posted in Aircrew Notices.

14th Jun 2001, 08:31
There are NO untrained or untested Professional Pilots.

There are plenty of untrained and untested Managers. If management is, as often mooted, an inate skill that supermen are born with, what are all the Management Colleges for?

In my not so humble opinion (excessive modesty and a shy retiring nature are my only faults) no-one should be in any managerial position unless they are qualified by both experience AND specific training.

So to answer the question: Yes, pilots who have the necessary personal qualities and have been given appropriate managerial training make good managers.

Through difficulties to the cinema

14th Jun 2001, 10:09
Fully agree with Blacksheep, It's not because you have a 3 digit number in your company 'mediocrity list' or have thousands of hours that you'll make a good manager unless you've been trained for. Air Force pilots are much better educated as they have a mix of management duty and flying at the earliest stage of their career.
Let's make a 360 and get out of here_...Left or right Sir?

Yak Hunt
14th Jun 2001, 11:19
Never really understood why they have to be trainers - or is it simply they can wield the big stick in the simulator!
If you can't do it - Teach it
If you can't teach it - Manage it
If you can't manage it - Buy the Airline
Seriously there are good Pilot managers - however like most things there is a 30% [email protected]*er factor. The real problems occur when the 30% meet the 30%!!!

The The
14th Jun 2001, 18:50
go to www.atsb.gov.au (http://www.atsb.gov.au) for the report into the Qantas Bangkok accident. Says a few unkind words about pilot managers.

Bomber Harris
14th Jun 2001, 18:56
The The

I tried to say your username with my best Leeds accent, but it doesn't work some how!!!

14th Jun 2001, 19:01
We all know that common sense isn't terribly common and it certainly is not a sense. As pilots, we all tend to rely on our inate abilities to see, assess and take corrective action. All too often, our managers (leaders)are too busy trying to figure out why our customer is choked about something rather than standing back, qualitatively assessing the front line of company-customer interface and enacting some form of inter-personal corrective action. Too deep? Someone already mentioned the practice of hiring good people; what can we do about managers who hire good people then don't listen to them?

I've even seen it come to the point where we hire individuals solely because of their academic credentials, then try and turn them into pilots so they can speak the language.

We, as an aviation sector must work to create ways and means of identifying individuals whom we would like to work for, individuals we respect, we know respect us, and who will remain loyal to safe flight practices. These individuals if supported by the the troops should be recognized by senior management and promoted accordingly. Do pilots make good managers? Not naturally. If management would invest some effort and $$$ in first identifying potential leaders, then training them to meet both management's needs as well as those of the pilots he/she oversees, the returns would be overwhelming.

Big Tudor
14th Jun 2001, 19:18
I agree with Blacksheep on this one. You need experience of what you are managing before you can consider yourself a good manager. There are too many people in middle / senior management positions purely on the basis that they have been on the right management course. They always argue that if you are a good manager you don't need to know about the job but what do you do when someone approaches you with a technical question seeking an executive decision. I suppose you try and get across the alligator infested swamp with a flip chart and a biro!!!

Curious Pax
14th Jun 2001, 19:49
I've no direct experience of this in the aviation sphere, but the question applies in a lot of professions. Mine is IT, and the normal career path is to progress through the ranks of the technical people, then move into management. However it is often glaringly obvious that a good technician doesn't always make a good manager, and it has always seemed a little odd to me that anyone should think that they would. After all you only have to look at the number of IT startup companies (usually run by technical people as they have the initial ideas) that go bust in the first 3 years! The big problem I think is that it is unusual for someone to have a career solely as a manager and so to become one they have to (in theory at least) prove themselves as competent at another job first - pilot, IT techie or whatever. The biggest argument against this idea is that many of you will say that a manager needs to prove himself competent at doing what his underlings are doing first.However the abuse heaped on many airline managers in these forums, a lot of whom appear to have come through the ranks, would appear to nail that argument!

14th Jun 2001, 21:53
Pilots are little more than overpayed bus drivers with wings; or in case of freighter pilots, overpayed truck drivers with wings.
It's a no brainer job, with so little to do and to think that one's mind takes a walk from TOC to DOD. Pilot Managers? Make us laugh.

14th Jun 2001, 22:11

This is essentially a professional pilots' forum. Others, according to our esteemed site owner, are most welcome, though I doubt that still holds true with those who show themselves to be either totally unprofessional pilots or just plain jealous of those of us who are.

Regardless of which of these two alternatives is an accurate description of your good self, I respectfully suggest you place your jaundiced opinion firmly up your fundamental orifice and bog off elsewhere PDQ -- else our skipper and his team will have your guts for garters!

Genghis the Engineer
14th Jun 2001, 22:30
An interesting debate which rather echoes one that is well known to Scientists and Engineers.

As a general rule, management is part of the Engineers training, and I've worked for few qualified Engineers who weren't also good managers. Scientists (and I've worked with or for a few of them too) often get promoted to management on the basis of their scientific acumen - and then usually make a complete hash of it. Those who have made good manager tend to have gone off and done some management training / got some experience elsewhere / really been a closet Engineer.

I'd suggest the same is true for pilots. Take somebody who has known nothing but the flight deck and put them in charge and you've probably got a disaster on your hands. But, give them opportunities to develop management skills and well, they're bright chaps, I'm sure they'll do quite well. Somebody manages to keep the RAF running after-all, and since they refuse to promote Engineers to Air rank, the master race must learn something somewhere.


Whipping Boy's SATCO
14th Jun 2001, 22:56
IMHO leaders, maybe; managers, generally not.

The caveat is that i am using my experiences within the RAF.

Harry Wragg
14th Jun 2001, 22:56
The best manager in football at the moment was a distinctly average player. Management is a combination of skills, knowledge, personality, experience, and luck. I was once informed that a successful manager was one who made the correct decision 51% of the time.

Oh, and I am talking about Alex Ferguson!!

Mac the Knife
14th Jun 2001, 23:30
Glueball, for a first post that's a remarkably silly one (unless, as I suspect, you're a troll..). Although PPRuNe is primarily orientated towards professional pilots there are a fair number of non-pilots, attracted by a love of aviation and by the many interesting discussions here. Apart from the more highly specialised threads, most of the more general topics such as this one illustrate problems and difficulties that are almost universal in application. From these I learn a lot and occasionally contribute a little. Formal CRM, for instance, is never either practiced or taught in my profession - through PPRuNe I have been led to realise this failure and to start implementing CRM in my unit.

Few real cutting surgeons make good managers. If they are charismatic they can often weld together remarkable small teams, but they tend (with exceptions) to make poor general managers. The reasons are probably that we tend to have a low tolerance of endless indecisive committee meetings and are bored by administrative minutiae. Those who are good at management and enjoy such bureaucratic cut-and-thrust usually end up operating less and less as they attend more and more meetings. As time goes by they then become increasingly out of touch, out of practice and (perversely) increasingly dogmatic about procedures that they no longer perform. And of course, those who were never really happy with the knife tend to become administrators anyway.

Can good management be taught? Well, maybe principles can, but real, big management needs patience, empathy, determination and good people skills that are qualitatively different from those required to captain a small tight group.

A most interesting topic with good comments so far.

14th Jun 2001, 23:46
I like the way this discussion is going, however, I don't want to sell ourselves short by saying we are glorified truck drivers. Maybe we are to some people, but we're reasonably well paid truck drivers. Such valuable commodities who are the key revenue generators for the higher ups deserve no less than competent leaders. It lessens our value and lowers us in the eyes of our customers if we are seen (perceived) to be a bunch of whiners not happy with our lot in life. All too often, we adopt the (easiest) whining attitude without suggesting to our uppers that they are off track on any number of issues. We recognize that our managers are not mind readers, yet we seem to expect them to be. When they perform less than ideally our frustration over-runs and we complete the circle by bad mouthing the incompetent jerks through another round.

I think it is key that we let senior management know when we are happy with a particular manager just as we should keep them apprised when we are unsatisfied with one. We are also guilty of putting (or permitting) our managers to become compromised it their dealings with us. Where should (must) their loyaltyies lie. Are they a pilot first and foremost? Or, must they remain loyal to the Company and keep the bottom line in the forefront of their every decision?

Frozen Falcon
15th Jun 2001, 00:36

I agree on Gordon Bethune.
But you missed the fact that he is not only a B-767 Pilot. He got the rating during his time as CEO of Boeing`s 757/767 production line.

Initially he was trained as a Navy Officer and technical platoon leader, afterwards he was in several management positions working his way up.
During this time he went back to University on a part time basis.
In his case he never flew the line.

15th Jun 2001, 00:44
So WHAT if he never flew the line? Continental does just fine, thank you very much, with the management that it has. What EXACTLY is your point?

Kaptin M
15th Jun 2001, 00:57
My impression is that the majority of G.A. businesses - flying schools, charter, and commuter operators - are (or initially were) started and operated, and managed by a pilot, either alone, or using other pilots to do the managerial, customer PR, and staff rostering/liason work.

Pilots generally "manage" pilot unions, which in turn should be the go-between in employee-employer relationships, effectively allowing both sides a buffer, as not all individuals are good "people persons", possessing interrelation, communication skills,

15th Jun 2001, 01:06
Of course they make bad managers. They are not selected to make good managers and thus be a threat to the incumbents. They are picked for their arslickan tendancies and utilised to to keep the other pilots in line. How else would a beancounter be able to control a brain surgeon other then through another more maleable and compliant colleague.

Real World
15th Jun 2001, 01:15
Aircrew tend to make make awful managers. This is primarily because they prove themselves incapable of divorcing themselves from the "one of the lads" syndrome thus they act more like trade union leaders than company management.

There are of course some notable exceptions but in my experience generally performance is very poor.

15th Jun 2001, 02:15
GlueBall I find your comments offensive. Airline pilots are paid for what they know, not what they do. It requires considerably more education to fly aircraft as opposed to driving buses.

Jack The Lad
15th Jun 2001, 03:22
Lum????? <Airforce pilots are much more educated....> Pardon???...where on earth did you read that little gem?...never saw any proof of that on the flightdeck.

Otherwise, a pretty good topic so far (excluding glueball's input, of course)

Bomber Harris
15th Jun 2001, 03:44
Oh come on....glueball is obviously a pilot wind up merchant...don't bite guys (and gals)

Great point from mac the knife. People with 'expert skills' who become managers tend to have trouble divorcing themselves from the technical side of the problems. But the other side of the coin is that it is hard for someone without the technical expertise to make the decisions. So the best compromise has to be someone who has "some" experience (alex ferguson!!) and is a good common sense decision maker who can take a stand back approach when it comes to decision making.

Inevitably this will upset some people as it always does. My golden rule in management is the 80/20 rule. If I make a decision which 80% of the people seem happy with it and a few screamers run into the office then it probably wasn't a bad one, but if it's 80% running in shouting about it then I probably stuffed up and need to look at things.

15th Jun 2001, 04:50
Who/what is "a good manager"?
Is there an absolute standard?
Where would one find it?
Do we assess results/outcomes? Short term or long term.
From whose point of view?
Do we assess policies, or decisions?
It is all so subjective.

I would hazard a guess that statistically pilots are probably not much different from the rest of mankind, as managers go. There will be good ones, bad ones, and those in between. Same as accountants, lawyers, doctors, bus drivers, and hamburger flippers.
Given equal training, where you come from has little effect on where you go.

Given their background, training, and skills, one might be tempted to infer that pilots might be suited in some situations, and not others. However, the adaptability of the average human being usually means that a good man can perform well wherever he is put,and the opposite is true too, so there is no certainty in performance prediction either positive or negative, based on experience.
Like with horses, there are very few "sure things".

Having said all that, the qualities that make a good pilot are probably similar to those that make a good manager.
Common sense, clear analytical thinking, effective risk assessment and prioritisation of tasks, wide range of job related knowlege, communication skills, the ability to decide on a course of action without undue delay, and then monitor the effect of the decision- making changes where necessary, until successful completion of the task at hand.
Classic airmanship!
Should work pretty well in most other work environments.
Great theory, but it doesn't always work like that in real life. As I said earlier, in horses and life, there are no "sure things".
:) :)

lost in hold.

Frozen Falcon
15th Jun 2001, 15:26
411A what is EXCACTLY your question?

I know that Continental does fine, believe me I do.

What I am saying is that it is not required to be an Airline Captain to manage an airline. Any further questions? I am glad to help you.

Hussar 54
15th Jun 2001, 16:07
Famous German proverb -

When God first made the body, all the different parts wanted to be the Manager...

First of all, it was the brain who argued that since it had to control the functions of the whole body, then it should be the Manager...Then the feet claimed that as they carry the brain, then they should be the Manager...next came the hands, who said that as they did most of the work, then they should be the Manager...and so it went on with all the different body parts wanting to be the Manager...

Finally, the ar**hole made its claim to be the Manager, but all the other parts just laughed...much to the annoyance of the ar**hole - who decided that he would go strike until he could be the Manager...

After a couple of days, the body's eyes became watered..the nails on the hands pushed themselves into the palms...the heart began to pound...the brain began to fever...the teeth began to clench....

When they could take it no more, the other parts of the body called an emergency meeting and the ar**hole was immediately elected as their Manager...and soon the body parts returned to working as hard as normal while the Manager just sat comfortably and dumped out sh*t all day...

Proof that all Managers are ar**holes

Prost !

[This message has been edited by Hussar 54 (edited 15 June 2001).]

15th Jun 2001, 20:53
“Excuse me” asked the man in the hot air balloon to the man on the ground, “I am lost, could you tell me where I am?” “Well” said the man on the ground, “you are in a hot air balloon, 10 feet of the ground, or with the present QNH 420 ft MSL, corrected for temperature, your position is 52 31.5 N and 001 28.3 W and with the wind 140 at 5 knots you’re drifting to the north west”.
“You must be a pilot” said the man in the balloon. “That’s correct, but how did you know” said the man on the ground. “Because” said the man in the balloon “what you told me is exact, to the point and technically correct but the fact is that I can do nothing with your information and I am still lost”. “You must be a manager” said the pilot. “That is true” said the man in the balloon, “but how do you know?” “Well”said the pilot, “you don’t know where you are or where you are going to. I gave you the information you asked for. Even though you are in exact the same position as before we met, somehow now I am to blame.”

15th Jun 2001, 22:14
Some pilots do make good managers, having been given good training, but managers are a bit like teachers, some are naturally good at it and improve with training, others will never be any good given endless training. Something to do with the ability to get people on your side without being a bully....a manager who needs to be a bully just sucks at being a manager.
Also beware the pilot who wants to be a manager to have his name on a door and to elevate himself above his fellow pilots....bad news

15th Jun 2001, 23:33
Pilot Managers and Politicians are the same animal. By virtue of the fact that they want the office they prove themselves unsuitable for it. They should be prohibited for applying for these posts. The positions should filled by a nomination sysyem of their peers. This way we get the chaps and chapesses who are competent and know what it takes to run a company/ country...

Real World
16th Jun 2001, 00:07
Frozen Falcon's point should be taken even further. Pilots should be managed by non pilots as regards discipline and motivation. Obviously on technical issues the reporting line has to be through pilots.

The reason that discipline and motivation issues are best dealt with through non pilots is best explained by the fact that pilots posting to this thread think it is wrong that maangement pilots should consider themselves different to other pilots. THAT IS THE POINT, they are different. They have to represent and sell the management line to their troops, even when they don't neccessarily agree with it.

In my experience they are invariably incapable of doing this as they fear that they will alienate themselves from their former colleagues if they were to be seen to be singing the management song.

[This message has been edited by Real World (edited 15 June 2001).]

company man
16th Jun 2001, 01:40
Me. I make a fantastic Md, Chief Pilot et al.

Just ask any of my pilots/ cabin crew......thats if you can find one whos awake after a long duty! http://www.pprune.org/ubb/NonCGI/tongue.gif

Oh. And I reward very very well :)

But in my humble experience I find most management pilots covering up because they cant even fly or have NO self-confidence. ah well