Leadership CRM – ‘What do you think?’

by Lt. Col. Daniel Mangan 76th Airlift Squadron commander

Crew Resource Management is a vital tool used in aviation to ensure people’s skills and inputs are optimized to maximize safe, effective operations. This tool, or training procedure, is the cornerstone of safe operations in crew aircraft.

In the 76th Airlift Squadron, we rely on effective resource management to ensure our crews remain a focused, functioning team. In the 76th AS we have pilots, engineers, communications system operators and flight attendants all operating on the same aircraft at the same time. Throw in the flying crew chiefs, Phoenix Raven security teams, and the flight doctors and an aircraft can carry up to seven different career fields operating simultaneously. CRM isn’t just a handy tool for us; it is an absolute necessity.

However, our squadron’s airborne mission of enabling U.S. diplomacy for key military and national leaders is not the only place the concepts of resource management are applied. CRM is employed across many career fields in the U.S. Air Force. Beyond career competencies, there is a broader concept to which CRM is essential, and that concept is leadership.

Leaders at every level, from front-line supervisors and up, should apply the same concepts of resource management when making decisions. In the 76th AS, I call on our leaders to draw on the knowledge and expertise of their subordinates when making decisions, both inside the aircraft and out.

When I’m posed with a complicated situation I usually start by asking, “what do you think?” Beginning this way applies the concept of resource management to leadership by empowering the experts closest to the situation to speak up, often exposing an angle of a problem I hadn’t considered.

In addition to some of the tragic aviation mishaps we have learned about in the flying world, think of the many engineering and maritime disasters that have resulted from lacking leadership crew resource management. The groupthink that has brought down bridges and sunk ships appeared to be the result of a rickety leadership framework, built on a foundation of intellectual nepotism that defined genius as “thinking like me.” Unfortunately, in many situations, the only recipient of the question “what do you think?” was a mirror.

Leaders can be reluctant at times to delegate away their decision-making authority to a committee or to a vote. I often have a good idea of how I think a problem should be solved before I ask for advice, but I still ask. Sometimes I’m persuaded to see things differently, and we get to a better solution.

However, even if I’m not persuaded, at least I’ll know where the people who might disagree with a decision are coming from. That builds understanding, trust and teamwork. It is CRM applied on a broader scale.

We use resource management inside and outside the aircraft at the 76th AS because it is a necessity for safety and a foundation for team building, trust and good decision making. I believe the concepts of crew resource management can, and should be, applied broadly to leadership. What do you think?