From Good to Great: The Four Leadership Traits of Chief Pilots

Author By Jim Lara

In the Business Aviation industry, a good Chief Pilot serves as a leader in a technically oriented world.

And a great Chief Pilot is a true leader—one who sets a clear direction and is aligned with the entire aviation leadership team: Director of Aviation, Director of Maintenance, the Scheduling/Dispatch Manager and the Business Manager.

Getting Chief Pilots from ‘good to great’ is actually easier than you may think. Here, we’ll discuss four key leadership traits to help a Chief Pilot progress further into business aviation leadership.

The Four Leadership Traits of Chief Pilots


Be a pilot’s pilot

A great Chief Pilot will have walked the proverbial mile in the line pilot’s shoes. This significant real world experience will help him/her build empathy for their cadre of aviators.

He/she will work with their direct reports to define and remove barriers to progress, and make the compelling case to the Director (and higher, if necessary) to obtain the resources needed to ensure the current and future success of the flight operations team.


Be just, fair and human

A great Chief Pilot’s IQ (intelligence quotient) and EQ (emotional intelligence) must be used in equal portions. This requires an uncommon level of maturity where personal egos are continuously held in check.


Be an accessible mentor

A great Chief Pilot must be willing to share his/her time and expertise, and be committed to help others develop to their full potential (where the Chief Pilot is the facilitator and the individual develops him/herself).

A great Chief Pilot is highly knowledgeable (but not all-knowing), demonstrating the curiosity and openness to explore new ideas and concepts brought to them by their team and peers in the industry. And he/she must proactively stay out ahead of technology and trends.


Be a collaborative player

A great Chief Pilot values his/her counterparts in each functional areas: maintenance, scheduling, dispatch and business management. He/she will have outstanding communication skills to keep everyone in the information loop and will be open to inquiries, suggestions and resolutions from all of the varying disciplines in the organization.

It’s very important to remember that the Chief Pilot is also a member of the aviation organization’s senior leadership team. And, in that role, he/she must have an appreciation and understanding of each of the aviation organization’s functional areas.

Just as important is his/her understanding of the host organization’s direction and key objectives. This knowledge will help put each mission into rational context for each of the Chief Pilot’s direct reports.


Next up, check our part II of our Good to Great series where we’ll discuss ways that Chief Pilots can become promotable, including ways to leverage finance, metrics and measurements.


About our Guest Blogger:

Sheryl Barden is the President and CEO of Aviation Personnel International. Now celebrating 41 years in aviation, API is the longest-running aviation recruiting business, exclusively serving the hiring needs of flight departments in business and general aviation. API offers the broadest portfolio of fully vetted candidates, including senior aviation leaders, pilots, maintenance, cabin safety crew, schedulers and dispatchers.