What Projects Could Learn From Aviation (Part 1): Declaring “Pan-Pan”

Cartoon with a person spotting a problem surrounded by others hassling themAlthough I don’t watch a lot of TV, one of my “guilty secrets” is that I am fascinated by the “Air Crash Investigation” series. This factual TV series catalogues a range of near misses and miraculous landings, as well as some very unfortunate and tragic air disasters.

 

Over the years, the commercial aviation industry has become safer and safer—and the fact that every mistake, disaster and near-miss is scrutinised in detail has undoubtedly led to a culture of safety (see the fascinating book ‘Black box thinking *‘ by Matthew Syed for more about this).

 

I was recently catching up with an old episode of the show, which focused on a case where a skilful pilot successfully landed a plane with almost every automated system failing. Many things fascinated me about this case, but one thing that really stuck with me was when the pilot described the concept of declaring “Pan-Pan“.

 

Pan-Pan: We’re dealing with an emergency, leave us alone (for now)!

It turns out, that when a pilot is dealing with an emergency situation (which doesn’t yet require a ‘mayday’), they will declare Pan-Pan to Air Traffic Control.  According to the pilot on the show, and articles I’ve read elsewhere, this has several useful functions:

 

1. It prevents Air Traffic Control from communicating or relaying any non-urgent radio traffic. They leave the pilots to focus on resolving the emergency,

2. Air Traffic Control can clear the way and be prepared if a ‘mayday’ call is subsequently made.

 

When you think about this logically, it makes sense. When the Captain and First Officer are desperately trying to diagnose the problem, referring to the in-flight computer and completing emergency checklist after checklist, the last thing they need is constant interruption. I cannot even begin to imagine the intense focus that must be required on a flight deck in such circumstances, and have the greatest of respect for those that work in the aviation industry.

 

If a project was a plane…

As I listened to this case study, it struck me that on projects, a very different approach is taken when potentially dangerous news emerges.  When bad news emerges on a project, it is all-too-common that the following things will happen:

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Interview: Sonja Klopčič on Leadership

Sonja mIn today’s blog post, we break from our usual format to bring you an interview with Sonja Klopčič, a leadership expert based in Slovenia.  Sonja’s career has been broad and varied—including engineering, board chair/CEO and crisis manager—but through it all Sonja has found that inclusive leadership is crucial.  Leadership is key in so many business, project and change situations.

I first met Sonja at a conference where we were both speaking, and even though she presented in Slovenian (which I don’t speak), I found the images on her slides really intriguing and interesting.  We stayed in touch, and I was really pleased when Sonja agreed to be interviewed for this blog.   Our virtual chat is published below—I hope that you find this useful!


1. Sonja, Thanks so much for being interviewed! I know from our conversations that you’ve had a wide and varied career. In your book, you mention that you shaped a personal style of inclusive leadership. Can you explain a bit about what this means, and why it’s important?

My core values are ethics, curiosity, openness, cooperation and freedom. I do not like to work in an environment where everything is specified and you have no space for your own creation. I always wanted to work with powerful, creative and responsible people and my aim is to develop leaders around me. I believe that such people also want to have their hands and their minds free, to co-create the common vision on their own way. I wanted to build the environment in which they (and me) would enjoy to create and be a part of the team. So for example, when I was a general manager of an IT company with 80 employees I selected a team of five young potentials (two of them were women, and it was not so easy to find them, but I wanted to create equal opportunities for both gender). I supported them in their development first in good managers and later in authentic leaders, each with her/his own personal leadership style.

I see management and leadership as a path of personal development for both the leader and their co-workers. It is a path that offers learning opportunities to everyone who wishes to develop as a leader – it opens up space for trying out new things and gaining new personal experience while, of course, taking on the primary responsibility for the achievement of business goals.

 
2. How important is leadership—and inclusive leadership—when progressing change within an organisation?

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