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Home Resources * Respect in the FAA

Professionalism and the importance of Respect

Ask a hundred of our aviation safety co-workers if they are a professional, and you get a single resounding yes. Ask those same hundred folks to define what it means to be a professional-and you will get a hundred unique definitions.

While professionalism has always been a goal for us as safety professionals, it wasn’t until just recently that we really began to look at what it meant and how we can work to maintain and improve it. Historically, the majority of our progress and efficiency improvements have focused on non-human elements. We have improved software, hardware, equipment, procedures, tracking, rules, communication and everything in between.

What if in addition to all that, we began to be proactive regarding the human element? The element that was ultimately responsible for the application and use of all these efficiency improvements. After all, the best hammer in the world is simply a hammer until placed into the hands of a professional, and then it becomes the nexus for building something great.

The FAA and NATCA began a collaborative look at how we can improve the human element of our safety system in the spring of 2010. We built the Professional Standards Program whose goal is to promote and maintain the highest degree of professional conduct through peer-to-peer resolution. We codified a description of who we are as controllers and created the ‘Code of a Professional Air Traffic Controller’

A Professional Air Traffic Controller’s performance and actions are a demonstration of his or her personal commitment to safety, excellence, and upholding their oath to the public trust, most specifically to the users of the National Airspace System. They shall conduct themselves in a manner that instills trust and merits the confidence bestowed on him or her by the public they serve.

  A Professional Air Traffic Controller, through his or her own conduct and performance, should inspire, motivate, and provide examples of professionalism to others.  The safety of the Airspace system is of the greatest importance and his or her performance should always demonstrate the highest standard of excellence.

 A Professional Air Traffic Controller accepts that his or her actions represent the conduct and character of all members of the profession. They shall act in a manner that brings honor and respect to the profession, establishes public trust, and sets a global standard for excellence.  

This code has become the basis for several other Professional codes for other organizational functions as well.

Over the past several years, many other programs have been created with the intent to have a positive impact on that human element.

We created the ‘Turn Off, Tune In’ program to educate individuals and create awareness on the safety impact and dangers of all the distractions that we face as safety professionals.

We created the ‘Fully Charged’ program promoting fatigue education and providing tools to mitigate fatigue hazards.

We soon realized that all these programs were a foundation of what it took to be a professional. We created the concept of Foundations of Professionalism. This incorporated all of our current programs, along with another key safety program ATSAP, to build the first of its kind safety concept.

Having all the programs under a single umbrella allowed us to better utilize resources, take advantage of unique opportunities to communicate their importance and to begin to look systemically at how better to identify future challenges and means of improvement.

This has led us to the newest campaign under the Foundations of Professionalism. The Respect campaign. The goal of the Respect campaign is to…establish and support a workplace that creates an environment of mutual dignity, support and respect between all individuals that work to protect the National Airspace System. We strive to foster continued professionalism in each of our workplace relations through education and interaction.

Why is this important? Because not one of us works in a vacuum. No single person in this safety system operates alone. We are dependent on each other and our need to communicate. Our relationship with each other is critical to not only our individual success, but more importantly to our organizational success.

To date we have had nearly 2000 submissions into the professional standards program. Approximately 80% of those issues are a result of an issue that arises between individuals. We have processed failures in communication and relationship between co-workers, between employees and managers and between safety professionals and customers.

Whether we admit it or not, how we treat each other and how we are treated impacts our profession and our professionalism. If we are not treated with respect it impacts how effective we are. Respect in the work place allows us to be driven to help each other, to want to communicate and to want to work together to be the professionals the public deserves. It creates a critical connection between all of us as safety professionals.

We make critical choices everyday and making a choice to Respect each other is no different. By choosing to Respect our colleagues, we create a culture of collaboration - safety and professionalism are increased as a direct result. Workplace conflict is a distraction that impacts our effectiveness. If we help create a positive work environment by having positive workplace relationships, our system benefits. We each play a part in building that positive workplace culture. Respect is something we all need to give.

You will begin to see information videos on the importance of Respect. We will show how it impacts us, how it impacts the system and how to recognize it. We will deliver a positive message on what we can each do to improve the relationships around us. We will discuss what we can do as individuals and as a part of a safety culture to maintain and improve Respect for each other.

As we roll out the Respect campaign, our initial audience is controllers, technicians, managers and others in, or in support of the operational environment. Subsequently, the campaign will expand to the FAA workforce-because we all work together to maintain the safest aviation system in the world. A workplace based on mutual Respect is not only what each of us should expect and deserve, it is what the people and families of those who put their lives into our hands everyday expects and deserves.