Engineering management is an incredibly broad field. First conceived during the industrial revolution as a discipline that helped develop manufacturing systems, modern engineering management can take many forms.
From systems engineering to product development, engineering management is a challenging and rewarding line of work. No matter what niche you fill, you will be asked to apply your scientific training, social mind and interpersonal skills to the task at hand. The skills learned while preparing to be an engineering manager can be put to use in tech start-ups, civil development, military, humanitarian and construction industries. Many top CEOs are essentially engineering managers in their role and training.
Typically, you will need to seek some extra qualifications before being offered a management job. Conventionally, a prospective manager world attend an institution in person. Engineering management degrees have been around since the early 1900s. Today, many institutions offer distance and online working arrangements that make it easier to shop around for the perfect course. To find out more, click here.
Although there are many specialist niches in engineering management, there are some core responsibilities that you will be required to take care of.
Supervising Engineers and Engineering Technologists
All management roles are supervisory. A key skillset you will be required to have learned during your training is how to efficiently and fairly supervise a team. You’ll need to revise your knowledge of any mathematical or scientific specialties that your team members have.
You are expected to be both an engineer and a guiding hand. Very diligent note keeping and assessment is required of a manager supervising a team of engineers. Give support when needed and ensure that your team have as many resources as possible for the completion of their tasks. Be sure to build up a network of engineers around you. If you don’t have the specialized skills to help a team member, seek help within a community of peers. Mutual aid works!
Helping With Product Development
Engineers play a crucial role in product development, and as an engineering manager, you’ll be expected to have a mind for business as well as science. Research the market you are working in. Think of yourself as a link between the commercial and technical arms of your organization.
Technologists, designers and engineers will likely come to you in order to discuss the manufacturability and market suitability of what they are working on. If you are working on a civil project, you’ll be expected to liaise with officials and workforce representatives.
Project management is one of any engineering manager’s core responsibilities. The Project Management Institute considers this as:
“the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements”
Actually ensuring that your project is managed properly often requires you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture – something that you may not have been accustomed to doing working as an engineer.
The temptation to micromanage your team should be avoided when managing a project. Gather a team around you who you can trust to pay attention to the details. It is your job to consider the broader aims of the project.
The ability to think on the fly is important when managing an engineering project. Keeping in budget and on track often requires agile planning and shrewd use of funds. You’ll be putting your extensive knowledge of materials and physical processes to use, identifying key areas where your team could improve as their tasks are being completed.
Managing a project requires clear and responsible communication. In order to meet your aims you will need the trust of your team. Make sure that aims, positives and negatives are communicated on a daily basis. Don’t shroud your concerns in passive aggression or hold back from giving praise.
Working and Collaborating With Clients
Working in any form of management requires great interpersonal skills. Part of managing any project is social. Be prepared to invest time into developing a supportive network of client contacts.
As a manager, you act as a hub around which the operations of an organization can gather. Clients can be demanding contacts, but it is worth remembering that they do have the power to change the aims, so you might have to think on your feet and negotiate between sets of clients with differing aims and engineering teams with specific limits to what they can achieve.
Working with clients always involves a little bit of mediation and diplomacy. You can’t necessarily learn this in school. Instead, it is a skillset that you will likely develop over time as you become used to your role. Client demands might be a little bit of a shock to the system of somebody new to managerial roles, but you’ll soon learn the ins and outs of client relationships.
A good engineering manager inspires trust in their team. You don’t have to have a magnetic personality or a dry wit, you just have to be a dependable and knowledgeable leader. If you are not willing to care for your team then you are not cut out to be an engineering manager.
If you come from an engineering background, be sure to offer your expertise alongside your managerial role. An engineering manager is expected to be both a technical and project oriented leader. You’ll be in charge of making key decisions about engineering solutions, and a key way to build confidence in these decisions is to show that you have the technical know-how necessary to be an informed and committed leader.
A good leader is indispensable in times of crisis. Throughout your career in engineering management you will likely be faced with some pretty tough decisions. Clients and team members will be relying on you to take the helm when budgets overrun, aims are not met or things don’t go to plan. You’ll be taking a great deal of responsibility, but a good business and engineering leader treats responsibility like a badge of honor.
Being a good leader can feel like a great deal of responsibility has been placed upon your shoulders, but the satisfaction of knowing you are at the wheel of a smoothly running project outweighs any negatives that responsibility might come packaged with.
To Know Regulations Inside and Out
Your days of simply doing what you are told are over as an engineering manager. Instead, you are personally accountable for breaches of regulation during your projects. You need to use all your diligence to ensure that you are following regulations. If you are unsure if your project will be able to stick to regulations, you need to lobby your employer to seek legal advice.
The regulations governing engineering projects can be rather confusing, especially if they appear to overlap. Building codes, safety laws, local bylaws, environmental regulations – the list goes on. As a manager, you need to plan your project to code. There are plenty of resources available to help you assess your projects regulatory adherence.
The easiest way to ensure that you are adhering to regulations is to create a detailed project plan and stick to it. This way, any breaches of regulation can be searched for and altered to code long before the engineering project gets underway.
Failure to comply with legislation risks destroying your reputation, endangering lives and can lead to some massive fines for you and your employer. Get to know regulations inside and out at the very outset of every single project. Employers will want to see that you are a diligent stickler for regulation before hiring you. It is just too much of a risk to hire an engineering manager with a reputation for earning organizations fines or hampering their projects with official litigation.
To Keep Abreast of Industry Changes
Individual engineers in your team will largely be focused on the technical issues that they have been tasked with solving. It is your job as an engineering manager to guide their technical development in line with cutting edge practice.
Developments happen swiftly in engineering industries. Manufacturing processes, design ethics and attitudes towards materials are all in constant flux as engineers create innovative new practices. Your employer will no doubt expect you to keep abreast of developments in the industry so that you can offer them the most up to date solution to their problem.
This is where your scientific brain has to take a step back and your critically creative brain has to take center stage. It can be awfully hard to spot an engineering trend that will stick. Picking an unproven or flash in the pan solution to a problem can be an absolute disaster. Ensure that you follow journals such as Engineering, Science and Technology. A useful list of international engineering journals can be found here.
Keeping track of academic journals will allow you to develop a sense of what the consensus on new practices is. This is vitally important. As a manager, you should be able to make informed decisions on engineering solutions based on industry trends and proven critical consensus.