Chahida Bakkour on Leadership

by | Nov 13, 2018 | Shared Stories

Chahida Bakkour is a current mentor in the 2018 TFTC Mentoring Program. Here, Chahida candidly shares her experience and advice on making the leap from a technical role into a leadership position.

One of her key pieces of advice – Have Faith in Yourself.

Tell us a bit about what you are responsible for in your current role.

I manage a team of 24 software and systems engineers that provide frontline Engineering level support of civil Air Traffic Management (ATM) systems. The team provides operational software support, testing and validation, configuration management, defect management, software integration, hardware support, logistics support and project support.

I have three work area leads that support me manage the day to day running of the team and tasking.

In my current role I provide tactical management and leadership. I undertake a number of activities including management of a works program (using Microsoft Project), resource management, projects delivery support and planning, recruitment, mentoring/coaching and performance management.

Tell us about how you got to where you are now.

After sending both my son’s off to primary school, I enrolled in a Certificate I in Information Technology (IT) as a mature aged student, to learn how to use a computer. I discovered a passion for technology and ended up teaching IT at Victoria University and doing freelance Web Design while studying a Bachelor of Business in Computer Systems Management.

After joining Airservices in 2009 on the graduate program, I spent the last nine years working in the Air Traffic Management systems domain.

I worked my way up from a being Support Engineer on the Eurocat Simulator Upgrade project to my current role leading the Eurocat/INTAS Support team. In between, I lead teams varying in size, from 4 staff to 24 staff and juggled at times several projects and system support activities with conflicting deadline and limited resources. Some of the activities that I’ve managed and supported include support and delivery of major ATM system hardware, software and adaptation/configuration upgrades.

Looking back over your career to date, what experiences helped you move into a team leadership position?

I recall at least a couple of occasions where I was very close to knocking back some great opportunities because I didn’t think I was capable of doing a role.

Had it not been for the support and encouragement that I received from a couple of my managers and a great mentor, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

It was a combination of the following that helped me move into a leadership role:

  • the support and encouragement of others who believed in me and my leadership potential at times when I had little self-confidence
  • great opportunities to take on leadership roles; and
  • some very effective leadership training programs delivered at the right time including:
    • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and
    • Harvard ManageMentor program – in particular the “New Manager Transitions” module which I started while I was transitioning to a new leadership role.

How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style varies depending on the situation, action or decision at hand. I see myself as a democratic leader but can change from being democratic to commanding to coaching or other style as required.

What has been the greatest challenge you’ve encountered working in what is traditionally a male dominated field?

I have encountered a great deal of challenges and at times have come really close to giving in, but my perseverance and patience have kept me going. It is hard to pinpoint whether my challenges are a result of being a female leader because I am Muslim, come from a non-English speaking background or because I started as a graduate within the team that I now lead. Maybe it is a combination or mixture of all the above, it doesn’t matter, to me they are challenges that I needed to overcome. Each challenge I encounter only makes me stronger.

I lead an extremely diverse team and believe in being fair, inclusive and treating everyone respectfully regardless of gender, age, cultural background and find that I get the same in return.

What advice can you share with women aspiring to take on a leadership or management role?

  • Have faith in yourself, if you see an opportunity that interests you or it comes knocking at your door, don’t knock it back.
  • Take care of yourself in the process and don’t let being a “Superwoman” affect your health and lead you to burn out.
  • Be prepared for less doing and more delegating. This can be very challenging for people moving from a technical role to a team leadership role.
  • Don’t expect to change things overnight – it can take weeks and even months to see progress, but can be extremely rewarding in the end.
  • Get a Mentor/Coach
  • Highly recommend you read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and you will find that some of my advice is based on the book
  • Set aside time in your schedule for planning.

Working with people takes a great deal of patience and empathy. Walk around and talk to people, try and understand why people behave the way they do. Things are not always as they appear on the surface.