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Is a Leadership Role in Engineering Right For You?

If you’re unsure whether a role in leadership is the right for you, here are the skills you need to have or acquire


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Leadership Role in Engineering

 

Some engineers prefer working directly on projects; others have aspirations toward a management role. However, not all engineers are cut out to be a leader. Engineers have a specific skill set that includes technical skills, project management skills, and mathematical skills. To succeed as a leader in engineering, however, you’ll also need a few soft skills. If you’re unsure whether a role in leadership is the right for you, here are the skills you need to have or acquire.

Visionary Skills

Every exceptional leader is visionary, from Steve Jobs to Martin Luther King. Engineers who are naturally visionary are the ones who bring bold innovative ideas, techniques, and solutions to the field of engineering. Don’t feel intimidated by this level of leadership, though. You don’t need to change the world, you just need to broaden your vision in the context of your job.

When working on a project, most engineers tend to focus on the next actionable step. When you move into a leadership role, you’ll need to shift your focus to the bigger picture. Being able to influence strategy and look at the long-term vision of either the company or a project is important. Your role may also require providing strategic input to external stakeholders like other corporations or government officials.

Risk Assessment and Problem-Solving

As an engineer, you probably already possess risk analysis and problem-solving skills. If there’s a problem with a project, you’re the person who needs to solve it. You also need to be able to spot hazards before it destabilizes the project and becomes a danger to the workers.

Those in management need to be even more attuned to risk. When something goes wrong on a project, it causes delays, impacts the project’s budget and can lead to serious injuries or deaths to workers. You will shoulder the responsibility and take the blame when things go wrong. Are you comfortable handling this level of responsibility? Your superiors will be looking at you to explain what went wrong and offer a solution.

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Analytical Skills

Most engineers are analytical by nature. That’s one of the reasons many are attracted to the field of engineering. Critical thinking is one of the most important skills an engineer should have as some engineering problems are complex. The sharper your analytical skills, the faster you’ll solve problems.

In a leadership role, analytical skills will also apply to business decisions, budgets, forecasting, data, design, project evaluations, and procuring the right materials and manpower for the job.

Interpersonal Skills

In a survey conducted with more than 15,000 managers worldwide, most said that the number one skill a manager should have is the ability to build relationships with people. Engineers are often painted with the introverted brush, preferring task and action-oriented work to dealing with people.

A management position will push you out of that comfort zone. You’ll be required to supervise and motivate staff. To do this, you’ll need to understand team dynamics, i.e. what makes your team members tick. An engaged and motivated team will be more productive and deliver better quality work.

People are more challenging to manage than the nuts and bolts of a project. You’ll be working with different personalities and the unpleasant side of human resources, like performance issues and disciplinary action. You’ll also need to show compassion and empathy when your team members face personal problems. If you’re not comfortable managing people, a leadership role in engineering may not suit you.

Receptive To Feedback

Visionary leaders often see what others don’t and forge ahead to achieve their goal, despite the naysayers. This is what makes them so formidable and why they often achieve the success most people only dream of.

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However, good leaders are also good listeners. They listen to feedback from their team and may even seek advice from a mentor. They’re aware that their passion may blind them to certain issues. When a team member points out a potential problem, they’re willing to listen and adjust the plan if necessary.

Communication Skills

The engineering field has its own language, one that outsiders may not understand. That’s why engineering leaders need good communication skills. It’s also one of the hardest skills for many engineers to crack.

As an engineering leader, you’ll be communicating with your team, upper management, clients, external stakeholders, and in some cases, even the media. You’ll need to communicate project expectations, progress, and solutions to your team and superiors. At times, you may be required to lead negotiations with clients or consultants.

When communicating with those outside the field, you’ll need to convey technical concepts in layman’s terms, both verbally and in writing. At times, you may need to do presentations and for many, the fear of public speaking is crippling. Fortunately, this is a skill you can improve by taking a public speaking for engineers course.

Moving into a leadership role in engineering is an exciting step. According to the Engineering Management Institution, great engineering leaders have a combination of technical skills, people skills, and project management skills. If you are comfortable with all three, then a leadership role in engineering is a good fit for you.

 

 

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