When it comes to handling high-stake risks on a day-to-day basis, the role of an air traffic controller (ATC) has few rivals. Traditional risk management approaches focus on training, procedures, the work environment and employee health, but the interaction between personality and risk remains comparatively unexplored.

The lack of understanding of the relationship between risk and personality is addressed by the Risk Type Compass (RTC) – a personality assessment that focuses on differences in how individuals perceive, manage and make decisions about risk. Based on extensive global psychological research, it places individuals into one of 8 distinctive ‘Risk Types’, providing insights that have important implications for individuals, teams and organisations.

So do Air Traffic Controllers Have a Type?

To explore this question, we analysed the reports of 90 individuals from the latter stages of an ATC recruitment process. Initial results point to a resounding “yes”, but it is only when compared against a general population sample of 8,000 that the extent of these differences becomes fully apparent.

Over three-quarters of the ATC sample were categorised as ‘Deliberate’ Risk Types, greatly exceeding the 17% represented in the general population. A complete absence of Carefree and Excitable Risk Types was also notable as, together, these reflect around a fifth of the general population. However, the distinctiveness of the sample did not end with the distribution of Risk Types.

Risk Type Strength refers to the distance of the individual from the Risk Type Compass’s central axis, and reflects how closely the individual will relate to their Risk Type description. When compared with Deliberate Risk Types from the general population, the ATC group were five times more likely to fall into the strongest ‘Strength 5’ category.


GP vs ATC Bar

What is a Deliberate Type?

Calm, calculated and sure-footed, they are not easily unnerved, but they test the ground thoroughly and like to do things ‘by the book’. They will approach tasks in an analytical and business-like way, and will like to plan ahead and be well prepared. Their position on the RTC places them at an opposing position to the Excitable Risk Type, whose decisions are fuelled by enthusiasm for exciting ideas and opportunities, but tempered by sensitive risk antennae. Excitable Risk Types may wrestle over decisions, but will go in deep once committed.


An individual’s Risk Type is a reflection of their perception, tolerance and propensity towards risk-taking, and this insight can be applied in various ways. When used in combination with other metrics, the Risk Type Compass can facilitate discussion around a variety of risk-related topics, and these can benefit processes involved in the selection and personal development of individuals in the ATC industry.

Each Risk Type encompasses various strengths and challenges that influence how individuals approach and complete tasks. The self-awareness generated by the Risk Type Compass can aid in identifying the most suitable and effective strategies for that individual to adopt in dealing with any challenges and to improve performance. An example for Deliberate Risk Types could be the need to appreciate that whilst their calm and business-like manner will usually prove a valuable asset in coping with the stress of their role, that same calmness may also prove a barrier to communicating the potential urgency of a situation to pilots.

Understanding variation in these factors will aid in selection, development and team building programs to help ensure an organisation achieves its desired balance. To enquire further about how the Risk Type Compass could benefit you and your organisation, contact us today. More research using the Risk Type Compass can be found in our Knowledge Bank.

This article, by Dr Simon Toms at PCL, was published in The Controller, the official journal of the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations (see page 22).

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