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Aspiring Chief Pilots Should Have a Professional Development Plan

Even if you think you won’t become a chief pilot for years, there are several things you can do now to help prepare for when the opportunity arises. One of the most beneficial, according to experts, is to create a professional development (PD) plan and stick to it. But with all the PD options, which is best for you?

Jeff Poeppelman, chief pilot for Nationwide Aviation Business Center, said it starts with understanding exactly what responsibilities come with the job you want. “You may have an idea what the job looks like, but all organizations are different, and so are the responsibilities of the chief pilot,” he said. “Typically, it requires a lot of skills beyond flying, like leadership, conflict management, communications, problem-solving, delegation – just to name a few.”

In fact, of all the soft skills you can choose to build your PD plan around – experts point to leadership as the most beneficial.

“Everything revolves around leadership, and if you continually strive to be a great leader, great things will happen.”

Mike Mulawka CAM, Chief pilot, Rich Products Corporation

“You’ve trained all your life to become a highly skilled pilot, and too many times, great pilots get into management positions only to fail,” explained Mike Mulawka, CAM, chief pilot for Rich Products Corporation. “Everything revolves around leadership, and if you continually strive to be a great leader, great things will happen.”

Where to Begin

Poeppelman strongly suggests completing a professional assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.

“Knowing where you’re starting from is the best way to decide where to focus your professional development efforts,” Poeppelman said. “You need to get granular on what areas of improvement will net you the biggest benefit for your current situation and future goals.”

Mulawka said that one of the best professional development steps was to earn his NBAA Certified Aviation Management (CAM) certification. “It’s totally a self-driven process that helped me develop a lot of individual skills along with strengthening my ability to work with others in my study group,” he said. “It’s an extremely well-rounded program that I believe is a great starting point for any pilot.”

“One key I’ve discovered is to become a better listener. If you’re doing most of the talking, you can’t hear what the other person is saying. It’s hard to solve a problem that way.”

Jeff Poeppelman Chief Pilot, Nationwide Aviation Business Center

Listening Matters

While in-person and online professional development programs have value, Poeppelman also stressed the need to work on personal skills that aren’t part of a published curriculum.

“One key I’ve discovered is to become a better listener,’ said Poeppelman. “If you’re doing most of the talking, you can’t hear what the other person is saying. It’s hard to solve a problem that way. Chief pilots are often the sounding boards for their flight departments.

“Also, learn to ask the right questions, then listen to the answers,” he continued. “There’s more behind an answer than you might initially hear. Filter to the root of the various issues you have to face.”

“You can often recognize those who want to become a chief pilot, early on,” Mulawka added. “They’re not so much ever interested in the title, but more focused on developing themselves for today and tomorrow. They’re always the ones assisting others in accomplishing their goals and overcoming their challenges.”

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