business men passing the baton on track field - building bench strength

Grooming members of your business aviation team to take over your job is a hallmark of great leadership. A true mark of leadership is having the foresight to engage in some serious succession planning. That’s right—having the vision to understand that you, yourself, won’t be in your leadership position forever, and thus taking the initiative to seek out people within your business aviation organization who have the fundamentals to fill your shoes when you move on.

And whose shoes need readying to fill?

Following is a list of leadership roles in aviation operations. If you’re among them, as a function of your leadership, you should be thinking about populating your ‘bench’ with potential successors for your job.

  • Aviation Reporting Executive
  • VP of or Director of Business Aviation
  • Maintenance Director
  • Flight Operations Manager
  • Chief Pilot
  • Aviation Safety Manager
  • Scheduling Manager
  • Dispatch Manager
  • Lead Flight Attendant

As a first step, if it’s at all possible, it’s important to identify candidates from within your own flight department to take over the reins. Finding people in-house will help ensure that there’s a continuity of culture, values and institutional knowledge—all three of which are vitally important to limit disruption to the department and help maintain the overall status quo under new leadership.

But tapping someone on the shoulder and letting him or her know you want them to succeed you is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more that goes into true succession planning.

First of all, although you might have someone in particular in mind for succession, it’s a much better idea to avoid ‘anointing’ one individual and, instead, groom two or even three employees for a top leadership role.

The old adage about putting all your eggs in one basket is particularly applicable here. For one thing, preparing two or more potential candidates for a top role can have some surprising outcomes.

During the grooming process, you just might discover that your second or third choice has risen to the challenge far beyond your expectations. So ‘number three’ might turn into your ‘number one’ candidate.

It Takes a Village

As a leader in business aviation, it’s critical to understand that effective succession planning can’t occur in a vacuum; there has to be some infrastructure in place to support the process. Your entire organization must embrace the concept in philosophy and practice.

This is where your HR department can be of vital assistance—as a a part of the employee development process, your HR partner should engage a leadership readiness metric or some other measure of preparedness for greater roles and responsibilities in the company. HR can also play a significant role in preparing employees for succession by making a variety of professional development tools available to them.

Encouraging individual team members to attend industry events outside their own organization can be extremely valuable, for instance, as can enrolling them in professional development programs and online courses geared to leadership.

It’s Not Secret

A question often arises: what will it do to the other members of my team if they know that a select few people are being readied to lead them? Won’t they find it discouraging?

On the contrary, many employee relations and HR specialists agree that acknowledging you have a successor (or successors) in mind can be a highly positive and motivational force in your department. Once you’ve identified a couple of candidates you think have all the characteristics of a leader, letting others on your team know about it can help them aspire to the same upwardly mobile track their colleagues are on.

Working openly with your potential successors also provides you with the opportunity to better manage the impending change. Making other company leaders outside your department aware of your plans (and which members of your team that you have in mind) will give them an opportunity to get to know your candidates, and help ensure a smoother working relationship during the transition.

Eight Things to do to Start a Succession Plan

So how do you get started? There are a number of steps you can take to get the succession-planning ball rolling. Following are eight important ones:

  1. Talk to your HR partner and your immediate supervisor to make sure there’s a supported succession path in place.
  2. Review all of your team’s job descriptions to ensure that there are opportunities for development.
  3. Understand the necessary competencies at each leadership level. For example, coaching and delegation skills, professional image and demeanor, communication and interpersonal skills, education and an understanding of how to deal with organizational politics are all competencies to be developed to ensure successful leadership.
  4. Identify performance objectives that identify the tasks/activities and expected results for future advancement.
  5. Cross-train individuals in key performance areas to assess their scope and prepare them for wider responsibilities.
  6. Identify critical positions within the organization.
  7. Establish a succession plan for each leadership role.
  8. Outline a mentoring plan for each potential candidate.


Put all of this this advice into practice and, as we hope you’ll see, an important outcome of succession planning will be how well it demonstrates that your organization truly values and invests in its people. By sharing your plan to eventually promote someone to your position, you’re letting your team know that there’s room to grow for everyone in the department. They’ll get the message that there are no ‘dead-end’ jobs where they work and that, if they work hard and apply themselves, the sky’s the limit.

Your turn

If you’re filling a leadership role in your flight department and have some tips about creating a succession plan for yourself, we’d love to hear from you! Please use the comments field below to share your experiences.

  • Always look for those who want “improve themselves” so they become more valuable to your organization and therefore to another potential move up locally or when someone else asks for them because of their improvement/success attitude(s).

    • Phil, thanks for your thoughtful response to my “Succession” blog. I think you touch on an important point—that, as a manager, it’s critically important to recognize the “self-starters” among your team members, those who come to work every day and demonstrate the drive to improve their position and themselves. And, as you suggested, by doing so they not only enhance and expand their own opportunities to grow, they also strengthen and enrich the entire industry. Here in the business aviation industry, we put a great deal of emphasis on recognizing and advancing those who demonstrate a desire for life-long learning and growth.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}