A VP or Aviation Director might get credit as the leader of a flight department. But if you ask me, middle managers oftentimes are the “unsung heroes” of business aviation.
After all, they’re the hands-on “do-ers” in their respective organizations. They’re the fliers, the maintainers, the dispatchers, the people leaders and business managers. And they deserve a lot of credit for being so.
Middle managers also have to “manage up” to win influence with their bosses and make them look good. On top of that, they’re leading people, handling projects and managing expectations with their peers. They’re also often charged with identifying, attracting and retaining new team members who fit well within the company culture. If ever a position required tremendous versatility in communication style and skillset—this is it.
Besides that, managers need to gain the proficiencies to hopefully succeed their bosses. That adds up to a lot of responsibility and pressure! It can all be daunting.
Nine Skills Needed for Middle Managers
Are you an aspiring or current middle manager? If so, here’s a partial list of some of the skills necessary to the role:
When it comes to executing strategic initiatives, middle managers are often the “hub” for doing so. As critical thinkers, they must be nimble and move between strategic and day-to-day operations. This requires the ability to question ideas and assumptions. And to think about the big picture and solve problems using data.
In bizav, middle managers need to educate, delegate and provide autonomy to their peers. (And to their peers’ team members). They also need to collaborate with their own teams and know how to delegate. This includes giving them a sense of ownership in the planning process.
This is a core leadership function. Being a successful communicator requires clear thinking and the ability to speak to various audiences. For example, middle managers must communicate with executive management and their direct reports. To do so, they have to control the up-and-down chain of communication. That means shifting gears as necessary, at a moment’s notice. It also means being highly skilled at reading your audience and communicating with people the way they want and need to be communicated with.
Hiring and Firing
Being able to hire and terminate people is one of the more difficult skills called upon as a middle manager. It requires knowing how to pinpoint exceptional talent, how to “woo” potential candidates and conduct a successful interview. Also important is the ability to handle performance reviews and performance improvement plans. One might even need to handle a necessary Reduction in Force (RIF).
Having a solid financial acumen can be invaluable to a mid-level leader. This includes knowing how aviation finances impact the department and its host organization. Financial skills include developing, measuring and reporting key metrics. Add to that budgeting for and presenting effective business cases. And, as well, interpreting key financial statements, among many more.
A position, title or expertise alone doesn’t give a manager automatic influence. Instead, their words and actions will earn trust and commitment from the team. It’s important to develop a range of influencing styles. Knowing one’s audience and their motivations will help bring people into alignment.
Knowing one’s self is a prerequisite to optimizing your success as a middle manager. This allows the leader to harness the knowledge to make better decisions. It also will help them navigate the strategic direction for the organization.
In times of organizational change, middle managers often become the linchpin. That’s because they have the closest proximity to, and understanding of, their employees. They are more successful at helping people adapt, because they’ve been in the person’s shoes.
For example, the current pandemic has necessitated enormous changes within flight departments. It’s required middle managers to ensure that their teams are functioning in the ever evolving “new normal.” The same is true with rolling out changes to a SMS or adapting to new regulations—or a new aircraft.
Growing & Developing Others
Helping others to grow is a vital role of a manager. This means giving them the tools, resources and commitment to be successful now and into the future. But it’s also the responsibility of the organization at large to allow for internal advancement and development.
Turning the Spotlight
I hope with the foregoing I’ve shed some light on how valuable middle managers are to their organizations as well as highlighting the enormous responsibility they shoulder. I’m shining a bright light on their accomplishments because they can be easily taken for granted. Is there any trait or characteristic that I missed? If so, please share in the comments below!
Next month, we’ll turn our focus to career advancement opportunities for middle managers. And we’ll offer up helpful case studies and tips on how to design a development plan. This is perfect for those wondering if advancement is right for them.