By DebbieH 20 May 2019 6 min read

Essential soft skills for aviation leadership


As the passenger experience becomes more central to the aviation industry, possessing the right soft skills is critical for leaders – and aspiring leaders.

According to a study by ServiceElements published in Aviation Pros, 90% of those working in aviation surveyed said the problems they face involve interpersonal issues and communications disconnects in the workplace.

So, while technical proficiency and other qualifications is essential, soft skills are also required for success.

Here are three essential soft skills if you’re looking to lead.



Communication is essential in any industry, but it’s especially critical in aviation, according to Florida Tech graduate Jason Terreri, Executive Director at Syracuse Regional Airport Authority.

“It can be a challenge getting the message across to people outside of the airport industry so that they see both the opportunities you’re bringing forward and the reality that sometimes in an airport, you have to do things a little bit differently than you would in other businesses or industries.”

Whether you’re dealing with people on your team or outside of the industry, it’s essential that aviation leaders are able to effectively communicate with others.

“You have to be able to articulate why you have to do things a certain way. That’s a challenge, especially when you’re dealing with different cultures and different languages,” says Terreri.

Steve Brechter told the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) that “astute communication” is one of the four critical attributes of a good aviation director.

Brechter, who is a senior advisor at Gray Stone Advisors, echoed Terreri in saying that aviation leaders must be able to communicate without using technical aviation terms in a concise and clear manner.

“The language of aviation needs to be secondary to the language of business,” said Brechter.



Being able to adapt to different situations is also a part of being an effective aviation leader. According to Brechter, “An effective aviation director needs to be as comfortable in the halls of the company headquarters as they are walking across the hangar.”

Chris Fernando, a Florida Tech grad and Senior Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton, says that “adaptability and flexibility are really important,” is essential for those who want to advance in the industry.



Aviation leaders who listen put themselves in a position of greater collaboration with their team, according to John Tiliacos, Florida Tech grad and Executive Vice President of Operations and Customer Service at Tampa International Airport.

“I think it’s important as a leader in the organization to surround myself with capable, strong people,” he said. “And if you put together a good, solid team, you’ll be successful.”

Good listeners also provide opportunities for constructive criticism and feedback, writes Neville Hay in International Airport Review:

“A great quality in a leader is the ability to listen to others and not be afraid to change one’s mind or acknowledge the superiority of another’s.”


Aviation leadership: A combination of hard and soft skills

Being a superior aviation leader requires a combination of technical aviation skills and soft, business skills, according to Mike Nichols, NBAA’s VP of Operational Excellence and Professional Development.

“An effective aviation director must have these business-related skills in order to effectively work with headquarters, but he or she also must maintain technical skills in order to maintain safety in the organization and credibility with the flight department staff.”

To develop both of these skillsets, the NBAA suggests finding a degree program that combines aviation management and business fundamentals. Florida Tech’s BA in Aviation Management prepares future leaders for success in the industry with a curriculum that incorporates courses specific to the aviation industry as well as a liberal arts foundation, providing graduates with the technical and soft skills they need to succeed.