Assessing the Modern Airport Executive

Mel Bakersfeld was the person that exposed me to the field of airport management. As the leader of an airport located in the Midwest, Bakersfeld exhibited several dominate leadership traits. He consistently demonstrated a passion for his job and had a...


One of the keys to successfully managing an aviation asset is to define the vision for the organization. The importance of having a vision cannot be overstated. Visioning is important to the stakeholder who may have millions invested in the airport.

If the stakeholder is to remain loyal and committed, he or she needs to know what’s at stake. A well-defined vision gives employees a sense of direction and helps establish organizational culture. It also forms the basis for demanding exceptional performance and building a cohesive team.

Acceptance of a vision statement also encourages policymakers to view the organization from a long-term perspective.

Finally, a vision is absolutely critical to customer service. The vision statement provides the description of the expected travel experience and provides measures for quality customer service.

Strategic leadership

Developing the vision is one thing, but leading the organization toward the vision is just as important. Strategic thinking is crucial to achieving the vision.

The airline industry witnessed major changes over the past ten years. Most of the changes involved airline reductions and extremely difficult economic conditions. The modern day airport executive has to be attune to future trends and economic conditions. Strategic decision-making keeps organizations on course. Contingency planning provides the flexibility to anticipate uncertainty and implement alternative strategies during periods of uncertainty.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” Many experts believe leadership success is directly related to one’s ability to develop business relationships. Strong people skills are the way to develop those relationships.

The ability to relate to people is at the heart of every activity involved in leading an airport organization. Employee relations, contract negotiations, team building, public relations, and policymaking are all are relationship-driven. People skills can be defined as the inventory of personality traits that enable one to develop trusting and productive relations with others.

Common traits associated with being a people person include empathy, compassion, caring, integrity, listening skills, and a sense humor. Given the many stakeholders, a leader has to effectively interact with all types of people. Relationships are at the heart of every aspect of a complex airport organization.

Consensus building involves the ability to bring various interests together in order to reach a decision each party can support.

Read the local newspaper consistently and you will find airports are the focal point of numerous policy debates, many of which are contentious. Successful consensus building and good people skills go hand-in-hand. The formula for consensus-building is listening, understanding various viewpoints, identifying creative solutions, and focusing on commonalities rather than differences.

Given the high-stakes nature of decisions being made at airports, consensus can be difficult to achieve. Unlike negotiations where the goal is to obtain the best possible outcome for one party, consensus is achieved when everyone agrees to the solution.

Dealing with the media

One of the newer challenges facing all public officials is coping with the news media. The 24-hour news coverage and the Internet have dramatically changed the landscape of public relations. There are literally hundreds of different outlets for obtaining news and information about airports.

Having the ability to control the message has a huge impact on how the organization is perceived. We are in an era where perceptions mean everything to the success of the organization. It’s incumbent for today’s airport leader to have the skills to be credible and competent when communicating in public.

Good public relations mean having a strategy for maintaining positive relations with the public. The airport executive sets the tone in this critical area of the business.

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