Chameleogenics UK Ltd

By: Chris | April 26, 2016


Whilst in the process of leaving the Royal Air Force I attended several seminars and workshops that were going to help me equip myself for life outside of an environment that I had existed within for 23 years.  Aside from the normal stuff like re-learning how to register with a GP, discovering that you actually have to pay for work clothing and finding out how the world on the outside actually works, I went through a number of assessments to understand what transferable skills I actually possessed as an Air Traffic Controller that would equip me for the world outside.


I strongly believed that I had a range of these transferable skills, but what did they transfer to?  It soon became clear after a couple of job interviews that “lack of commercial” knowledge was pretty high on the gap-o-meter!  However, (after some sound advice and feedback from a Director that interviewed me – Thanks… you know who you are!) I persisted, became employed and have since honed new business skills and forged a career away from the Air Traffic Control environment mainly in external and internal consultancy, leading change and business process redesign. 


Although the cut and thrust of daily Air Traffic life now seems a life-time ago, I haven’t forgotten the core skills that a good Air Trafficker requires to conduct their business on a daily basis and this knowledge has helped me whilst working with business clients from around the world.


One of the most common things said to me when I reveal that I used to be an Air Traffic Controller, apart from the question, “Was you the guy that waved the table-tennis bats?” (NO!), is “Wow, that must have been stressful.”  Now, I’m not going to lie and say that it was all plain sailing… believe me, it had its moments, but the stress of an Air Traffic Control situation is very much “in the moment” and once it has been resolved, most of the time the stress factors diminish and at the end of shift, you go home knowing that the job was done well.


That’s not to say that you never reflect on a particular situation that has arisen.  Generally, any “stressful situation” would/should be thoroughly debriefed and of course there may be occasions where you feel stressed for a longer period afterwards (it’s a very personal and individual thing.)  But, as a rule, once the moment has passed… there’s not much you can do about that particular situation apart from take in the learning and apply to the next time should it occur!  Lots of experiential learning!  A part of the management of stress in aviation relies heavily on training, supervision, debrief, feedback, sharing and learning…  more about that in a later post. 


So with all that in mind, when I first considered writing this series I was going to focus on stress and performance under pressure rather than the core skills.  My initial thoughts were to research the top-ten most stressful jobs and show how Air Traffic Control was right up there in the list.  To my surprise, in the lists that I checked out for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, Air Traffic Controller as a profession did not feature in the top-ten… not once, which made me wonder why people naturally made a statement like “Wow, that must have been stressful.”  Public perception?  Maybe?  The same perception that drives people to think that Air Traffic Controllers wave table-tennis bats maybe?! (I say again, they don’t… apart from occasionally for leisure!)


Surprisingly, Executives that I have worked with have often been amongst the ones making the comments about stress to me, yet Corporate Executives feature on the top stressful jobs list year on year!  It is also probably not surprising that as there are so many lists to choose from that originate from all over the world there is no real consensus on what THE most stressful job is.  From what I can gather Corporate Executives, Healthcare Professionals, Enlisted Military Personnel, Prison Officers, Police Officers, Fire-fighters and Airline Pilots all feature fairly consistently in the top twenty-five.


So after the research and finding that according to the many lists that Corporate Executives were in fact in much more stressful jobs than an Air Traffic Controller, I thought it would be more interesting to examine what similarities there are between Air Traffic Control and the Corporate Business World and whether the Corporate Executive, Business Leader and Manager can learn from the Air Traffic Controller!


What I discovered was not hugely surprising to me as I explored this when leaving the Royal Air Force, but I thought it may be time to share wider.  In my view many of the core skills and competencies of an Air Traffic Controller are in fact directly transferable into the business landscape.  In fact, I would go so far to say that by working on these core skills, Executives, Business Leaders, Managers and their organisations could improve their performance greatly and become more productive.


The Air Traffic Control skills do not only relate to personal development, but can also be applied to how teams function, how products are developed, markets are managed and all round business operations.


So this article is the introduction to a mini-series of blogs focussing on how the skills and competencies of an Air Traffic Controller may be translated into business terms.  I shall discuss core skills and specific skills - translated from Air Traffic Radar Control and Visual Control, I shall share some anecdotes and share some practical advice on how you may be able to apply these skills into the business world.


Whether you are an established Business Leader, Corporate Executive with years of experience, Manager of any level or a budding entrepreneur building your first business, there is something here for everyone.


During the next few posts I’m going to introduce the core skills of the Air Traffic Controller, skills that I was regularly assessed upon and regularly had to prove that I was satisfactory in, I will introduce the fundamentals of the specific skills used in radar and aerodrome control, that when transferred into a business may improve your effectiveness and I will give some insight into how you may embed these skills into day-to-day working.


The first part – “Scan…Scan!...SCAN!!!” looks at the first of the core skills and its importance in safely navigating the business landscape.


To gain access to the full series I would ask you to visit the Contact Page of this website  fill in your details and select “Subscribe to Blog” from the drop-down.  It is totally free and you have my guarantee that I won’t be spamming your inbox repeatedly.  What you will get is access to each article before it is released on the web and extra information and diagrams not available on the blog page.  Over the course of the next few weeks I will be building this series of “Air Traffic Control and Leading a Business – Similar?” and of course I welcome your feedback.



The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the UK Government. Examples given are from personal experience and should be viewed as only examples.Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of any UK government entity.