Becoming an engineer is just the first step to a successful and interesting career. If you want to take things to the next level, you must gain the skills necessary for engineering management.
These skills enable you to move up the organizational ladder. You may start your career as an engineer who works within a team. However, as you get older, having the right combination of skills and technical knowledge helps you move up the ladder, earn more and take on more responsibilities. You can become a manager if you have the skills to manage people, understand finances and budgeting and plan and oversee entire projects.
Whether you are just beginning to earn an engineering degree or are already a qualified engineer, it is important to think about how you can grow in your chosen profession. The easiest way is to enroll in a Master in Engineering Management.
The quickest way to learn is through an online program such as the one offered by the University of Ottawa. All learning materials are accessed through an online portal and you never need to attend on-campus classes. You can complete the course in under two years and if you enroll in a reputable institution, you will be highly marketable to employers.
The course teaches how to handle budgets and finance and you will also learn how to manage projects. Students are introduced to people management and leadership as well as decision-making for engineers. You will also learn about product innovation management and operations management.
Upon completing your course, you can expect to be employed as an engineer, but you will be in management. Not only will you earn more, but you will also take on the responsibility of planning, executing and delivering projects.
You may not handle the day-to-day engineering work, but you will guide teams and make sure that everyone works together to achieve common goals.
Knowing what skills are necessary for engineering management helps you plan your career. They can be broadly classified into two categories. You need the technical skills that every engineer must have and you also need soft skills.
Technical skills for engineers
These are the skills that are taught in whatever line of engineering you choose to specialize in. They are theoretical, which means that they can be learned from textbooks and other sources of engineering knowledge.
You may learn about subjects such as the strengths of different types of engineering materials, how they react to stress and heat, how to calculate the amount of material needed for construction and other technical elements. The topics covered vary depending on the engineering branch.
To learn technical skills, you must enroll in a degree program. Students start with a bachelor’s degree in whatever type of engineering they would like to pursue. It qualifies them to work within teams in engineering companies or for government agencies.
After working for a few years with just a bachelor’s degree, you may want to expand your horizons. The experience you gain at this stage helps you prepare to become an engineering manager.
A master’s in engineering management is similar to an MBA for business professionals. It teaches management skills. Students learn how to manage finances for engineering projects, how to guide teams, how to anticipate and mitigate risk, communication and other management-related subjects.
While these skills are sufficient to make a competent engineering manager, more is required. You can learn how to guide teams, for example, but if you are not personable you will have a hard time achieving the project’s goals.
This is where soft skills come in, and they are essential for anyone who plans to become an engineering manager.
Essential soft skills for engineering managers
If you want to become a successful manager, you should strive to learn the following skills:
Bringing teams together
You must be able to bring people together and solve problems. A good engineer helps others understand issues as they have conceptualized them. They communicate with the team, bringing everyone together and working with them to bring solutions to life.
If people can rally behind you, they can help you achieve great engineering projects.
This is an essential soft skill that every engineer must have. A good communicator knows how to talk so others listen. They also know when and how to listen. They make others feel heard. Every team member feels important and knows that their contributions are taken seriously.
You must learn to communicate with people at all levels. Whether they are recent graduates who are doing the most basic jobs or other senior managers, communication should be easy and flawless.
You will often find yourself pitching ideas to people outside your company, and your communication skills will determine what sorts of relationships you form with them. They should be able to trust you. If they back your projects, then your job will be easier.
This is an umbrella term that is used to describe how people interact with those around them. It can include the most basic of things, from how you react when someone says good morning to how you react to criticism.
Emotional intelligence develops over time. As you get older and gain experience, you find that it becomes easier to interact well with others and minimize conflict in your professional life.
This isn’t to say that young engineers should disregard the value of emotional intelligence. On the contrary, they should consciously strive to learn how they can become mature, independent managers who can be relied upon to lead teams and find solutions.
Attention to detail
This is essential if you are going to be a successful engineer. Details are everything in engineering projects. If you are the type of person who doesn’t pay attention to details, then things can slip through the cracks and your projects may fail to meet expectations.
Poorly completed engineering projects can have dire consequences, so this is something you must take seriously as an engineering manager.
It is important to note that if you are the sort of manager who pays attention to detail then your team learns to do the same. If they know that you never let things slip, they will do their best to make sure that every task is completed to spec.
Engineering projects are large, complex and time-consuming. If you are the sort of manager who likes to do everything yourself then you will fail. You must learn to delegate to manage your workload and focus on priorities.
Your role should be to make sure that all tasks within the project are completed as stated in the project document. Learn to trust others to do the job without having to look over their shoulder.
This is an essential soft skill, and you must develop it by the time you begin your career. You must learn to complete jobs within stated timelines. Organized people are often good time managers. Their minds are clear, they know where everything is and what the next steps are. They write schedules and make plans carefully.
A good manager encourages his team to manage their time carefully. They are diligent about deadlines, making sure that everyone knows when they should deliver.
It is important to remember that engineering projects that go beyond schedule can be very expensive. The client may decide to charge you for each day you go beyond the allocated time or they may sue you for inconveniences you have caused by not completing a project on time.
Ability to receive criticism
You will be criticized many times in your career. You may be put on the spot by your bosses for a job that wasn’t done according to specifications or team members who are not happy with something you did.
You may be criticized by a client who feels that you are taking too long to deliver, have gone over budget or are not meeting design specifications.
How will you react? If you are the sort of person who is demotivated by criticism, then a managerial position may not be right for you. Successful managers take whatever feedback they receive and use it to do a better job in the future.
Ability to motivate others
People become discouraged. In engineering projects, it can be because a job is highly complex and requires a lot of time to complete. Sometimes people are demotivated because a job is boring and doesn’t engage them adequately.
As a manager, you should learn different ways to keep your team motivated. Understand who they are and what makes them tick so that when they are down you know how to put some pep back in their step.
This is another skill that comes with age and experience, but young engineers can learn it as well. A strategic thinker is all about solutions. They look at a problem and see different ways it can be solved using engineering.
Strategic managers understand how the different cogs in the machine interact and can align the right people to get buy-in for their ideas.
It can be demotivating to be led by someone incapable of making decisions. Teams rely on managers to make decisions all the time, and they expect those decisions to be the right ones.
You can become a good decision-maker by putting yourself in different situations that require you to juggle lots of input and come up with a solution.
Be a good decision-maker in all areas of your life. It engenders good decision-making in the workplace.
Give credit where it is deserved
It is easy for managers to hog credit. They are the face of the project. A good manager knows that he wouldn’t get anything done without his team. Let every person know that their contribution is appreciated.
Let clients and other stakeholders understand that the team was critical in bringing their project to life, and publicly acknowledge team members who do exceptional work, however minor their role may be.
Engineering projects take a long time to complete. Seemingly small tasks can take months to accomplish, and if you do not practice patience, you may be tempted to take shortcuts.
Patience for engineers is a virtue. It helps them see projects through from the beginning to the end, however long that may be.
How can you develop these soft skills?
These may be essential skills for engineers, but they are not all taught in engineering courses. This doesn’t mean that those who do not inherently possess them cannot become good engineering managers.
Each skill discussed here can be learned. Many courses, for example, teach time management and communication. They are designed to give you pointers and if you work with the material provided you soon find that you are a good time manager and communicator.
Some skills can be learned from those who are more experienced. If you have a problem coming up with ways to motivate your team, for example, you can talk to more experienced managers who have successfully run teams. Ask them what they did to keep members engaged and see what you can borrow.
Skills such as patience are learned through self-awareness. If you find yourself reacting impatiently it helps to stop and acknowledge it and then make a conscious decision to be a little more patient, whether it is with yourself or with members of your team.
Be aware of emerging trends. Your clients expect you to keep up and deliver projects that meet societal expectations.
When it comes to soft skills, the important thing is to be a continuous learner. Strive to be better and to learn from people around you who inspire you. Self-awareness is also important, but don’t be over-critical of yourself. Every engineer makes the occasional mistake; what is important is what they do to fix it.
It is possible to climb to the highest levels of your engineering career if you have the right combination of technical and soft skills. A Master’s in Engineering Management imparts the necessary technical skills. Soft skills may be more difficult to master because they are not always part of the curriculum, but they can also be learned.