Insights into Aviation’s Senior Aviation Professional

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The below () RunwayGirlNetwork article captures some of the requirements of the Associate Administrator for Aviation job and some of the attributes of the current occupant, Margaret Gilligan a/k/a Peggy. She is indeed both a cheerleader and a den mother, but there is a lot more to this dedicated public servant.

She may posture herself as a “cheerleader” of the industry and its remarkable recent safety performance. However, much of the credit for moving her organization from a Tombstone Agency (credit for the term: Mary Schiavo ) to a proactive organization had much to do with Ms. Gilligan’s leadership. The staff she inherited thrived on watching the airplanes and airlines, which they regulated, and then they would take action (i.e. react). The positions of the FAA safety jobs were labeled aviation inspector or principal operations inspector. She realized it is difficult, if not impossible, to effectively control a moving target. She resigned a different paradigm which moved the point of action away from the past.

Peggy saw that the future had to do with numbers. The cybermetrics, which business and sports tout as their primary tools, had applicability to aviation safety. The FAA began to capture hundreds of thousands of data points and run them through statistical analyses; from those relevant numbers the regulators and industry could predict from whence the mechanical, operational, engineering problems were going to occur. The new methodology allowed aviation to become more proactive.

Yes, Peggy is a den mother in that she has to encourage her organization to try new methods. Congressional oversight and inadequate management powers have limited her ability to command her staff to do this or that. She has to use her ability to persuade, which she hone while a lawyer, to get her 7,000+person organization to try new things.

It can be said that this first female leader of the FAA’s old boy network is a pathfinder with few role models whom she can follow. Enough said.

Peggy is neither an engineer nor a pilot, which are the preferred professional titles for her field of work. In the absence of a degree or a professional license, Peggy is an excellent learner. Don’t come to her office expecting to bamboozle her with an obtuse technical presentation, the Associate Administrator will punctuate such “smoke and mirrors” with piercing questions. In preparation for the issue, she will absorb and comprehend all of the relevant issues.

During her tenure she has established a reputation as a diplomatic teacher. Her work requires her to interface with political people (Secretaries, DOT Executives, Administrators, fellow FAA senior staff, Members of Congress and their staff) whose knowledge of the technical elements of the FAA’s work is minimal. Peggy has to impart her knowledge to them and do so without insulting them. Also, part of this skill set is to treat some of the incredibly uninformed questions propounded to her at hearings or elsewhere as though they are incredibly knowledgeable and she does so skillfully. Occasionally, Ms. Gilligan is called to fall on her sword when the point of the attack is not within her ambit. Her grace in such situations is remarkable.

Incredible dedication to being the best civil servant; a willingness to work long, hard, stressful hours; humor; a second sense for what is politically acceptable, who matters on the Hill, what phone calls from other Departments and/or other influential people in DC need be answered quickly; how to balance (sort of) work and personal life—all are evident in Ms. Gilligan’s career.

The most notable characteristic of this woman is her integrity. Ask her a question and either she will say she does not know or she will tell you the absolute truth. No weasel words, no misremembering, no compound, complex sentences which after diagramming you are not sure what was said. Peggy places high value on her word and she never risks loss of her integrity.

In summary, we, as aviation safety professionals and as frequent flyers, should be very pleased that Ms. Gilligan’s history of hard work, high performance, positive attitude and smarts merited her attaining the position most likely to enhance safety.

She’s also a very nice person.

ARTICLE: FAA safety official is part cheerleader and part den mother

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1 Comment on "Insights into Aviation’s Senior Aviation Professional"

  1. Agree wholeheartedly, Peggy is and has been first class.

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