Tuesday, December 22, 2009

214 out of 216 and Falling or FAA Management Gone Wild

Let me frame this entry with a simple question: What is a leader? A simple answer: Someone people choose to follow. The FAA has very few leaders while we're top heavy with managers. What's the difference between a leader and a manager one might wonder? Simply put, a manager says 'go' while a leader says 'let's go'. A leader is somebody you respect and try to make look good. You have their back and they have yours.

Christmas is just a few days away and I want my thoughts in a different place than where they are. I wish they were of family coming to visit and gifts under the tree with the anticipation of a late Christmas Eve service at Hosanna during a huge snowstorm we're expecting. Instead they're stuck in a 5 minute episode that unfolded during a holiday dinner at work with our crew the other night only to be tweaked once again in a Quality Assurance briefing this morning.

Our crew's supervisor (to me and others, a leader) orchestrated a potluck dinner for several of us to be held during our team meeting Sunday night. He also invited his boss, our area manager (heavy emphasis on the word 'manager' and absolutely none on 'leader') to sit in and listen. We were all sitting there with full plates in a rather quiet room. To be honest, the presence of this particular 'manager' soured my mood and would set the tone for the topic of discussion I would pursue.

I broke the silence.

Because this person represents in my eyes all that is wrong with FAA management I expressed my disappointment about a lack of change in culture I was hoping to see with the new administration (more about that culture at the end of this post). The FAA currently sits at 214 out of 216 of government agencies to work for when defined by employee satisfaction. Controller input into the survey was only 10% but I'm quite sure we make up a higher percentage of the workforce than that. Had our voices been proportionately heard we'd likely have finished dead last in the survey. I commented that while it's nice that myself and my fellow controllers will finally be receiving raises after three years of frozen wages, had McCain been elected we controllers would still be looking at another two years of no pay raise while management would continue getting raises as they have all along. The manager assured me that they too would have finally gotten into the game this coming year and had their wages capped had we not ratified a contract. Wow...what leadership!

He went on to say (and this is the part that bothered me most) that he felt the highest paid controller should be making less money than the least paid supervisor in a facility. Say What? I asked him in so many words if he really meant to say that a much younger 4 year employee should be able to trump my 28 years of controlling just because they opted for a management position? He was emphatic that they should and went on to say that it's because the job of supervisor is a more responsible position than that of a controller and you can't have someone in a position of authority making less than the person they're supervising. Sure you can; the FAA has done that my entire career without it being an issue that I've ever heard of.

His, a more responsible position? I asked him if it was permissible for supes to surf the web while they're on position. He stated that it was. I then told him that there's no way I could do that as a controller in the sector because I have far too many responsibilities in front of me. I asked him again who had the more responsible job. If he had an answer I don't recall it.

He then asked what I felt it takes to do the job he does? Without hesitating I replied "A GS-7 (government scale pay-grade 7) with two months of training". It was an honest answer. Before I could follow up with thoughts about NWA188 and his key role in that management fiasco, Mark, my supervisor, asked if we could change the subject because it was getting too heated for a holiday dinner. I agreed.

News got around about what had been said in the meeting and I was happy to hear the words of thanks from those who'd heard what had happened. I merely said in so few words what they also believed; that the job of supervisor/manager has nothing to do with accepting more responsibility but is actually just the opposite. You're no longer on the razor's edge of critical thinking necessary to get the job done. The primary task a supervisor has is ensuring sectors are staffed adequately to handle the traffic. Trust me when I tell you that I could teach my wife or daughter in a matter of a day or two how to do that. Provided you have the sectors staffed adequately, if you're a supervisor and there's an incident you have little to fear. That's all on the controller in the sector.

If the FAA was serious about reducing costs they'd consider hiring and training people to answer the phone in each area of specialty for the purposes of approving/denying shift requests and disseminating traffic management initiatives. They could pay them so much less than they're currently paying someone to do the same work and we could avoid the huge expense of training people to be air traffic controllers when their only goal is to sit at a desk and answer a phone while making an obscene amount of money for so little effort.

Our management ranks are overflowing with people who were less than stellar controllers but yet according to the area manager in our pot-luck dinner meeting I'm to believe that those people (including him) were actually in search of more responsible positions. Bullshit!

Oh, and about that culture change we've been so patiently waiting for? Suckers!


Spinning Hat said...

It's interesting to me and also sad that management feels that way.. I am at the Academy now, and the picture that is painted is far from the truth, at least in what I have been told, and what I read here, and the Follies. the training supes here try to tell all of us that they're here for us to succeed, blah blah blah, but we're treated with kid gloves, and the training isn't exactly cohesive and well planned. The people here all seem very genuine, and I imagine that there are those here that do want us to succeed. It's just a hard spot to be in here for this long, in the dark, waiting to finally get to our facilities to actually start learning our craft. I did see announcements for the management kool-aid fest for Atlanta, and told my classmates then that we would be seeing that on the news.. Sadly, I was right...

Once all is said and done, I'll be reporting to the facility April 12th. Then let the reality check begin! LOL

David Bryan Gilmore said...

As you know Kevin, I've been in management and the trenches for many years. I have a pretty good feel for both points of view. As a grunt and attic rat, I enjoyed the work and the ability to say I did a good job. I really didn't think too much about the pay grades as we were not allowed to talk about pay. As a manager, I knew that senior employees sometimes got paid more than me as a manager. They had more years and worked their way to the top of that food chain. I was just a junior officer and understood that it was a different job. Title alone does not equal anything. For some having a title is more important than pay. For others, a title simply is just that, a plaque on the door. The go-to person to get direction or resolve an issue. Managing people is never easy. You are always between the subordinate and upper management. You are graded on how well your entire team does, you included. It sounds like the government management concept is much different from the private sector.