Professionalism in the Workplace Series: Part II

This is part two of our series on professionalism. The Assistant Dean/Associate Professor/Chair for the Flight Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus, Ken Byrnes, answers a few questions as to why professionalism is essential in our ever evolving workplace.

What is your personal definition of professionalism?

I believe that there are three distinct components of professionalism: (1) personal and technical competence, (2) Personal appearance and neatness of work, and (3) personal conduct. All three of these areas are important; however, conduct is by far the most vital to career progression and success. Think about it, if you did not have the personal and technical competence for a specific career, you would not be able to do the required work and you would not qualify for the job. This competence usually comes from education and experience. Personal appearance and neatness of work are skills that can easily be taught and judged. While appearance/neatness implies professionalism, they are easily manipulated. Conduct on the other hand, is an intangible aspect of your professionalism that is rooted in your values and your beliefs and it greatly affects your ability to communicate, collaborate and lead. Professional conduct has more to do with who you are rather than what you can do, and it is normally what can make or break career longevity and progression. 

In this new virtual world, has professionalism changed? If yes, for the better or worse? 

I believe that the impact that Covid-19 had on professionalism is yet to be determined. There is no doubt that the virtual world that we have lived in this past year has reduced the requirement for professionalism. The impact will be known when we start getting back to face-to-face meetings where we have to stay engaged, keep eye contact, shake hands and wear pants.

What is your advice if someone does not agree on a decision by his or her supervisor? What is the best professional approach in this situation?

The first thing to do is to realize that you may not have all of the information and try to look at your supervisors’ decision from their perspective. If you still feel that your supervisor is incorrect gather some data to support your assertions and try to develop an alternate solution. Privately approach your supervisor to discuss the situation, ask them for their perspective and then explain your perspective (focus on the data and your proposed solution). You should communicate professionally, without negative emotions. If your supervisor still wants to move forward with their original decision, then you provide support for their decision. At this point, you have professionally and privately communicated your thoughts to your supervisor, and you may have even provided good alternative solutions, but ultimately it is not your decision to make. Stay professional at all times and refrain from gossiping or talking negatively about your supervisors’ decision to peers or subordinates.

Aviation is a close-knit community. How does the industry perceive individuals who have a reputation for unprofessionalism or unprofessional behavior?

Due to the inherent risk associated with flight, aviation has zero tolerance for unprofessional behavior. Airlines and aviation companies alike are always looking to hire the most professional employees possible and most companies go to great lengths using background checks, reference checks, credit checks, personality assessment tools, extensive interviews, etc. to ensure that an applicant has the professional aptitude required for commercial aviation. An applicant who shows a pattern of unprofessionalism will have difficulty finding or keeping a career in aviation.

What final advice do you have for students/alumni to continue to always be professional in the workplace?

For students, realize that your career has already begun. ERAU is not a normal university, the majority of ERAU students know where they are going, we are just facilitating the journey. Aviation companies will be interested in how you performed in college as well as how you conducted yourself in college. Keep in mind that professional, safe conduct is critical in aviation and that future employees will be judging your professional and safety mindset based on your personal and professional history. For alumni, please realize that as entrenched professionals you are one of the most important teachers of professionalism. It is mainly through your mentorship where students learn professionalism. Continue to be great role models and take every opportunity that you can to mentor our students or anyone who aspires to join our industry.