What's Your Vision of Your Future in Maintenance: Tips for transitioning to management

Aug. 1, 2000

What's Your Vision of Your Future in Maintenance?

Tips for transitioning to management

By Fred Workley

August 2000

Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Manassas, VA. He is on the technical committees of PAMA and NATA and participates in several Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committees. he frequently speaks to groups on issues of current interest to the aviation community. He holds an A&P certificate with an inspection authorization, general radio telephone license, a technician plus license, ATP, FE, CFI-I, and advance and instrument ground inspector licenses.

When you are the proud holder of a new certificate with Airframe and Powerplant ratings, many people consider that you have a "license to learn." Unlike other fields, however, you can't learn in aviation by making mistakes. You have to learn how to do things right the first time and continue to do them right every time for the next 40 or 50 years.

Over the course of a career, we are offered opportunities to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities. If you stick around long enough, you get to be the older, wiser one with the answers to others' questions. This sometimes puts the best and sharpest mechanics in a situation where they are asked to be the supervisor or shop manager. I would like to offer you some thoughts on how you can be successful when you make the transition to greater responsibility for other people and the direction of a whole organization.

We accept responsibility for the work that we have accomplished every time we place our signature and A&P number on a maintenance record. We possess the knowledge and skills to accept that responsibility. If you are going to lead others, you have to make a personal commitment to leadership. This transition from mechanic to leader is your chance to show your stuff.

If you are successful, you will have an advantage over other competition in the market place.

Also, with your success will come a competitive advantage for your organization. Your challenge is to take ownership of your destiny and offer leadership to "Keep 'em Flying."

You may have to realign your thinking and perspective. It's your task to create a vision for yourself and others. You may have to start thinking like the owner. On the other hand, you may have to develop a commitment to a shared vision. That means that you may have to get others to enthusiastically buy into your vision.

You may have to empower yourself by taking the initiative. Again, you may have to feel and act like the owner.

However, the challenge will be to delegate this new ownership experience to others. You are going to have to push both responsibility and authority down to the newest person in your organization. When things go well you have to share the recognition. Now everyone is fully accountable.

In order to instill your vision into everyone so that you can sustain a leadership culture, you must gain support for your actions. At the same time, you must give support to others for their independent actions. I have carried a card around in my calculator case for nearly 20 years. Here is what it says about leaders and managers:


• Provide vision

• Develop commitment for vision

• Interpret company philosophy

• Act as change agents (Unwilling to accept status quo)

• Clarify expectations

• Direct and monitor performance

• Document progress

• Administer policies

Can you think of people that you know that fall into one, or possibly both, of these categories?

Approaches to leadership and management

Traditional model

The traditional view of an organization has been a pyramid with the Chief Executive Officer at the top and employees at the bottom. Customers were somewhere in the space below the employees. If you like to lead people with rules and regulations imparted through command and control then this model is for you. It leads to predictability through task-oriented activities that are tied to production. You will be successful and make a profit. The traditional model is bureaucratic by its nature, but don't be lulled into thinking that its set structure provides lower risk and therefore offers no risk to you. Unless there is a sustained commitment over a long period of time, it is difficult to have everyone give 110 percent everyday. Boredom may eventually set in and that could lead to errors. Errors cause rework and diminish profitability. In this model, people work "for you."

Inverted pyramid

You might base your vision on a model where the pyramid is turned upside down. Put the customer on the top. The employees are next to the customers and then there's you. Yes, you will do all the things a manager/supervisor needs to do, but you also have to create a vision. In essence, you have two jobs - one of a leader and one of a manager. It doesn't matter what your title is. If you develop a "service-driven" leadership vision, you are going to have to be personally committed to it. You also have to get everyone who works with you committed to this concept. Your challenge is to align everyone's goals so that everyone is headed in the same direction. This may mean empowering all the employees. Employees who like their jobs can also make you successful.

Your service-driven vision will require some key management values. Service and quality are going to be very important.

The customers are likely to be very happy to give you their money and loyalty. The people that work with you will feel that they have good jobs and they will be satisfied even if they have to put out 110 percent every day. They want to come back to work tomorrow. Survivability is one of the keys of profitability.

The impact of a change agent

You have to find an organization where you are comfortable being a member. I recently heard a fellow say that one-third of your life is spent a work. The impact your vision has really depends on whether you are a risk-taker. Any time you initiate change there is risk involved. Change is hard. We can view it as a circle. Out of confusion and chaos, sometimes spawned by anger and fear, there arise new opportunities. Resistance to any change leads to denial of any problems and a refusal to accept any guilt. Sometimes, it takes a personal shock to force any new risk-taking. This is how personal growth happens. When the new vision is accepted, then it promotes renewal and the organization is healthy. But after a while, unless there is sustained commitment, the contentment with the status quo sets in.

Building quality

Before we develop your vision, let's build a lot of paper airplanes. You're the leader of the project. You hold a meeting and tell everyone that you have one goal - which is to get the product out. You tell them to get the job done and to be successful so that you will look good. You tell them how the workflow for the proposed project will be set up, but you don't have time for questions because you have another meeting to go to. Think back to our pyramid models. Which way does your pyramid point? Are you being a leader or a manager?

If you look at the workflow as you announced it, customer satisfaction and quality are at the end of the process. Customer satisfaction needs to drive the process and quality has to be built-in by everyone. Quality can't be inspected into the product. Everyone who does every process along the way has to build in quality. If it's not there, then the rework will eat up any profit and no one is happy. Demanding people to make a lot of paper airplanes is not giving them your vision. Warren Bennis, author of the book Reinventing Leadership, summarized this very well. But, how would you state your vision for a team tasked to build a lot of paper airplanes? Here's my idea: Have our team build and assemble for our very discerning customers a lot of personalized high-quality, aerodynamic, environmentally-friendly, safe paper airplanes. After the team hears this, it's time to get their input. You may have to change the workflow for the proposed project to support your vision statement or change the vision statement.

Checking your vision

Visions provide a purpose that outlasts individuals and existing leaders. Good visions go beyond self-interests. They can't be solely based on financial gain or written in some program like Management-By-Objectives. A good vision is perceived as beneficial and desirable to customers, suppliers, and other employees. If it is written well and accepted, your vision engenders pride in the organization, team, and the individual. Above all, take ownership of it since it's your vision.

Vision promotes commitment by challenging, energizing, and inspiring. You need to picture a future condition that is realistic, credible, possible, and yet very ambitious. A good vision provides a sense of importance and thus has the ability to make a difference.

Sometimes a good vision gives greater meaning to routine tasks and may have the effect of empowering the people you work with. The impact will be the degree to which people feel they have the power to act on their own, rather than waiting to be told what to do.

Creating vision

You must think like an owner of the business. Next, you must focus on the "core" business issues and problems - not symptoms. You need to visualize and think about all the possibilities beyond today's reasonable expectations. Keep the customer always in mind and visualize the business/team from the customer's perspective. Go beyond the traditional model with its built-in boundaries. You need to gather information effectively from every possible source. You need to actively listen to internal and external customers as well as team members at every level of activity.

Please feed the managers

Team feedback is giving and gaining support. It eliminates dumb rules, artificial obstacles, and slow bureaucracy. Your vision supports the team even during times of disappointment or failure. Through feedback you can effectively utilize recognition to reward excellent performance and good ideas. It helps you allocate and share resources within and between functions in the interest of achieving the overall business goals.

Feedback supports you for standing up for what is needed and right for the team. When someone who reports directly to you makes a viable proposal, you should vigorously pursue the approval and support of the whole team. The objective of the team feedback is to encourage you to make decisions based on knowledge, logic, and facts.

There are several elements of team feedback associated with taking the initiative for change. Initiative often has some calculated risk associated with a particular action. However, aggressively pursuing all opportunities may create a competitive advantage. You have to assume the responsibility for facing all open issues promptly and seeing they are resolved. The "not my job" attitude stifles initiative. Showing initiative will implement any required actions instead of waiting for higher management approval. The end result is that you anticipate and initiate positive change before any crisis develops. Unfortunately, this will require you to make some difficult decisions even when the required data is scarce or not available.

Delegating ownership

As a leader with a vision, you need to encourage the identification of new opportunities to pursue so that your organization can create a competitive advantage. You can do this by focusing on performance instead of effort. Get everyone to work smarter, not harder. Select effective team members bring many skills to the team. It's up to you if you can accept an environment that can accept failure in pursuit of new opportunities. This often encourages team members to take calculated, carefully thought-out risks. Also, delegating ownership strengthens the individual team members. When you delegate ownership effectively, you act as a coach instead of a player. You have less temptation to jump in and do the job yourself.

But I just wanted to fix airplanes

By now you are saying, "I just wanted to fix airplanes." We're not done yet. Here are some suggestions to get others to share your vision.

You must clearly and consistently communicate long-range directions. Always involve all the team members in developing long-range objectives, possibilities, and plans of action. Now that feedback is coming to you, you must, in turn, provide frequent and specific feedback to everyone else. This two-way information street creates an environment that supports informal and open communications. When decisions are made openly, they generally support the organization's long-range objectives. This shared vision helps demonstrate your integrity and instills trust and credibility.

After you do all this, what will others see? There will likely be a shift to performance measures based on external factors. Sometimes, organizational structures are simplified or de-layered. It sometimes requires the use of "Knowledge Workers" who have skill not held with your team. It requires you to know clearly what business you are in. There will be daily problems, challenges, and failures, but in the long run, your shared vision will result in more delegation of responsibility and authority. With authority comes accountability so that quality doesn't have to wait until the final inspection. Instead, as we said earlier, it is built in at each process. The final inspection only verifies its integrity.

Style trials

As a prospective candidate for increased responsibility, you might think about developing your own distinctive style of leadership and compatible style of management. Over the years, you will have the opportunity to attend leadership and management training sessions where this kind of information is presented. Use every opportunity to explore these ideas if they are new to you. Whichever approach you eventually take - be consistent.