One way to accomplish these is by becoming a manager. Many dream about moving up a rung on the corporate ladder but making the transition from an employee to a manager, regardless of industry, is no small task.
During a panel, at a conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Paul Holson, Michelle Marassa, and Monica Sartain, offered career advice on transitioning from engineer to manager. The panelists explained that Engineering Managers must:
- Be prepared to deal with human resource issues
- Look at the big picture and motivate their employees to do the same
- Learn to delegate
- Be clear about the expectations they have of their employees
- Seek advice from other leaders that have transitioned from engineer to manager
- Lead by example
- Be prepared to take risks
When an engineer wants to become a manager, the first thing he or she must do is cultivate a new skill set. This typically revolves around managerial processes, effective interpersonal communication, and leadership. Often these are not skills taught to scientists and engineers so they must be learned on the job. Here are examples of a few skills:
- Managerial Processes
- Hiring and Firing Employees
- Creating Budgets
- Strategic Planning
- Effective Interpersonal Communication
- Conflict Negotiation
- Active Listening
- Presentation Skills
- Inspire and Motivate Others
- Build Relationships
- Display Ethics and Integrity
If an engineer is interested in a management position, it would be advantageous to start developing some of these skills before applying. One does not have to be a manager to engage in active listening, hone presentation skills, or inspire and motivate others. Working on these skills now may cast one in a better light when applying for that first management position.
What to Do First?
In his article, Become a Manager in Engineering, Peter Vogt, Senior Contributing Writer for Monster.com, writes “if you want to become a credible manager in engineering, you’ll first need to prove yourself to be a solid engineer.” Once one has established him or herself as a credible engineer, and is ready to go after a managerial position, Vogt suggests taking the following three steps:
- Find a Mentor: Get advice from an engineer who has successfully made the switch into management.
- Push Yourself beyond Your Technical Abilities: Start cultivating your management and leadership skills before finding the right position. People in the position to promote will see that you are ready for more.
- Seek Out Project Management Experience: Start considering the bigger picture of your projects. Get involved in conversations on budgets, deadlines, and clients. Look for how these elements influence engineering tasks.
Successful Engineering Management
In her blog, Successful Engineering Management: 7 Lesson Learned, Johnann Rothman, Founder of Rothman Consulting Group, offers suggestions for how to be a successful engineering manager. She encourages managers to make time to really talk and listen to engineers. She assumes that the people who work for her know how to do their jobs. This creates an atmosphere where people do good work and do it in a timely manner. Rothman has a twist on the Golden Rule. She says to “treat people the way they want to be treated, not the way you would like to be treated.” We all have different motivations and a good manager will act on that information. She encourages leaders to admit their mistakes. She also says training time is a must.
Engineers interested in management have a variety of ways to develop new skill-sets, many mentors from which to choose, and a long list of best-practices to cultivate. Once they have completed the transformation from engineer to manager it is likely that they will play a more direct role in the success of their company and feel a sense of both personal and professional accomplishment with this achievement.