Engineers are hired for their technical skills but taking the next career step to management requires a more comprehensive skillset; as an engineering manager you’ll need to speak a common language that both engineers and clients understand and act as a bridge between numerous organisational departments.
If you’re considering a career in engineering management, here are some of the areas you’ll need to develop.
Most top engineering managers have a background in engineering, complemented with a higher qualification in engineering management. You’ll need to maintain an up-to-date knowledge of the engineering processes and software technologies (coding languages, frameworks, methodologies, etc.) your team uses to know which solution will work best for each situation and to understand and review the work you are managing. Managers with strong technical skills tend to earn more respect from their teams than managers with strong people skills that do not fully understand the work.
In addition to supervising the work of the engineering team, engineering managers need to be able to oversee a project through from start to finish, including allocating and budgeting resources, coordinating communication across multiple departments, and ensuring that important deadlines are met.
Moving from an engineering role to a management position can be a tough adjustment for those who are not natural leaders. Engineering managers need to be able to communicate effectively with their own team as well as clients, executives, and members of other departments who may have a less technical background. Taking a masters degree in engineering management is a good way of acquiring the communication skills you need to progress from a pure engineering role to a management position.
Unlike many engineering roles that provide clear, concrete answers to everyday problems, managerial positions often require judgement calls. Learning how to assess situations that don’t have clear right or wrong answers (for example, where to make budget cuts, how to deal with interpersonal issues, when to reallocate resources or extend deadlines) is a key skill that effective team leaders need to acquire.
Sometimes tasks will be accomplished faster if you complete them yourself but learning how to delegate responsibilities to other team members is an important part of being a manager. Knowing each engineer’s strengths and weaknesses, how much supervision they require, and when to back off and let them complete a task without micromanaging their progress is a tricky balance to maintain. Good engineering managers allow their team members to develop their potential but provide guidance, direction, and feedback when it is needed.
If you are interested in a career in engineering management, an MSc in Engineering Management from the University of Hull Online can equip you with the advanced knowledge and skills you need to effectively manage a team.