Engineering is a broad subject across many different industries. However, an engineering manager’s role remains generally the same across the board. But what exactly does an engineering manager do – and what’s expected of them from an employee perspective? Below, we’ll briefly define the role and consider some of the most important skills and attributes you’ll (hypothetically) need in a managerial position.
What does an engineering manager do?
Engineers rely on their managers to keep their ships running and ensure they always have the tools and support required. An engineering manager covers a lot of different bases. The list goes on, from hiring engineering team members to supervising daily processes and keeping a close eye on potential growth or training opportunities. Engineer manager roles change throughout their careers and will vary depending on where they work and their impact on end products.
While there are specific tasks and certain duties that all engineering managers must be able to do, there are also key skills that each manager must possess. For example, you would likely expect an engineering manager to have great people skills – to inspire and lead those who technically work beneath them. This article will explore which skills are vital for engineering managers and why they are crucial in their duties.
The first – and most self-explanatory skill is that an engineering manager should have some aptitude for the engineering field. The manager’s job is to help their team and ensure that all of their projects progress at a measurable pace. They will be relied upon to find solutions and resort to out-of-the-box thinking that no team member can muster in certain situations.
Crucially, an engineering manager needs to lead, pull rank, and set a knowledgeable example for their staff.
Moreover, an engineering manager needs technical expertise in their given field to understand and participate in projects immediately. Whether that’s chemical engineering or automotive support, employees will feel more inclined to follow the orders of a manager who’s “been there already.”
To become engineering managers, most applicants rely on relevant study experience on top of any management courses they may complete.
However, even if you have a degree in a given engineering subject, every engineer knows that technology is always changing. As it evolves, new engineering processes are put into place, as is new coding, new frameworks, new techniques, and so on.
Therefore, to remain knowledgeable and able to manage an evolving engineering team, each manager must take steps to stay informed about any changes or advances within their given industry. It’s wise to keep one’s finger on the pulse.
Moreover, beyond being able to help, supervise, and complete projects, it’s also important for an engineering manager to have the technical expertise to gain their team’s respect.
If a team is not confident that their manager knows what they are talking about or is in any position to give them feedback, they will not trust their judgment, leading to project failures and potential personal conflicts.
Every team needs a confident and knowledgeable leader – and in engineering, that starts with technical knowledge and, where possible, proven experience on the job.
Naturally, a key attribute all managers need, regardless of industry, is the ability to lead. That means more than simply giving orders. An engineering manager needs to ensure that their staff understands and cares about completing the tasks set out for them.
A manager is, in effect, a team leader. Engineering teams need to remain motivated, receive encouragement, and keep a clear view of project timescales and checkpoints to make necessary advancements in engineering and complete the tasks set to them.
While many people are self-motivated and focused enough to manage solo, engineers often must turn to their leaders for guidance and a strong sense of purpose. Engineering managers must inspire confidence in their team members and remember to keep their eyes on the prize.
Fields as complex as the many different types of engineering thrive on teamwork and communication. Without these principles, there’s a risk of team members doubling up on work, failing to hit deadlines, or even coming into conflict.
A good engineering manager – not just any team leader – must understand the stakes and communicate clearly with their charges.
Beyond actually talking to their team members, good engineer management must also lead by example. Suppose engineers work under a manager who is lazy, unmotivated, and indifferent about the project. In that case, the team members are likelier to emulate that response and act the same way in their work. Naturally, the knock-on effects could be disastrous for the client and the brand.
Therefore, an engineering manager must always show passion, encouragement, focus, and discipline in any project. This attitude and demeanor are always essential, even more so as things become difficult.
Although it’s easy for many of us to lose sight of what’s important and even become discouraged when projects appear to take longer than they should or do not have the outcome we hoped for, that is precisely the time to remain focused and motivated.
Engineering is one of the toughest fields to lead in. Engineering projects are frequently up against a perfect storm of tight deadlines and the need for impeccable care and attention. Without careful planning and management, it’s easy to see projects come and go without notable success.
We’ve touched upon this briefly, but it stands to reason that communication skills are vital when discussing projects, problems, and news with the rest of the team. This is all the more so in engineering, where details may be complex, or any particulars missed could prove detrimental to project completion.
What’s more, in the case of public engineering works and projects, simple instances of miscommunication could lead to public safety issues.
A good engineering manager must first and foremost learn how to listen actively. They cannot solve any issue or respond to any query without first listening to the problem – and they will likely have realized this through years of experience in their engineering projects.
They must also be able to hear the solutions and ideas of others. Managers have a team for a reason, and using them properly means knowing when to let them have their say – and when to take new ideas and solutions on board.
Moreover, engineering managers must know how to communicate their ideas, criticisms, opinions, and questions. They must know how to do so verbally (i.e., face-to-face with others, via the telephone, or even during video calls, which have become increasingly popular in various industries).
Of course, managers must also know how to communicate properly in written form. This covers emails, notes, and written messages or instructions to help engineers understand how to get from points A to B and everywhere.
A great manager must know how to properly address the receiver and make their message as clear as possible to minimize the potential for confusion or mistakes.
In addition, engineering managers often have to build visual presentations for their teams and executives. Therefore, they must learn how to create clear, useful plans of action that can inspire success – and leave little room for doubt. It’s all in the name of keeping qto keepency close in view.
Finally, engineering managers must also pay attention to their non-verbal communication across the board. They are placed in a role where they are commonly the focal point of a project, receiving oversight from their teams, superior executives, and so on.
Therefore, they must always know their facial expressions and body language. For example, a manager must always appear engaged and focused, even when taking a bit of a mental break. They must keep eye contact when speaking with their employees, superiors, clients, etc.
Effective communication skills keep engineers focused, on deadline, and always working to the best of their ability. From conflict resolution to coaching support, the role of a manager is vital.
Time management skills
All engineering projects have deadlines – some are tighter than others, but millions depend on talented engineers’ work. If engineers miss their deadlines, the whole house of cards starts falling from civilian projects to infrastructural concerns.
Thankfully, the best engineering managers know how to handle their schedules effectively – keeping themselves on target and ensuring their team knows what to do and when.
Having exceptional managerial time management skills means knowing how to use every hour of the work day to the best advantage. That means knowing who works best where, doing what, by what deadlines, and so on.
It can be easy to fall into a chaotic pattern, making you and your team work overtime to compensate for lost time. But this is an easy way to get burned out, miss deadlines, and make the whole process much more stressful for all involved.
By keeping a good handle on time and how to use it, you can better ensure quality work, inspire more confident and content employees, and – with a little luck – provide happier executives. Managers who handle their time well should (in theory) feel less pressured.
Each manager can handle their time as they see fit, but it’s always a good idea to plan for the week ahead. For example, they may start by looking at current deadlines and urgent tasks that need completion and then factor in what a given team can do, when, and who can do it.
By the time the start of the week comes, everyone will know where they are needed, and suddenly, each working hour of the day is a little bit more productive. This ties in nicely with communication skills – and the next point.
Project management skills
A big part of engineering management is overseeing every project currently in progress. From the moment you become aware of it to when it’s completed and sent to where it needs to go, an engineering manager must be on top of a project – even if they have no direct physical part in adding to the end product.
As individual engineers have specific guidelines and deadlines, engineering managers have their duties. These include delegating tasks and resources, minding budgets, ensuring engineers can communicate freely, following a project’s progress, and meeting all deadlines.
A competent manager should feel confident handling their projects and overseeing others. For this to happen smoothly, engineering managers must be able to multi-task, remain calm under stress, pay attention to detail, and remain focused, informed, and up to date on every project currently under their management. What’s more, a great manager should stay available and ready for their employees should they need them if their engagement skills are highly desirable in both engineers and their managers. However, developing them can take time and effort.
While most of this article focuses on the manager, it’s important to remember that a manager is nothing without their team. A key part of being a manager is focusing on that team and ensuring it is as confident and capable as possible. That means knowing how to motivate each team member and build a strong community.
A team that works well as a single unit helps boost morale, improve quality output, meet deadlines, and keep everything running even when things get difficult. Team building as a concept likely brings up ideas of games that people play to learn more about how each specialist operates. While these activities can be useful, managers will have ample opportunity to help build and develop their engineering teams.
Being as transparent as possible with each other regarding the work can make a huge difference to team harmony. Recognizing each employee’s efforts and showing appreciation is a great way for managers to reduce the potential for resentment and conflict. Allowing everyone to have a say during meetings to ensure everyone gets a voice will help boost morale and job satisfaction and may even offer insights managers may have yet to consider.
Conflict management skills
Sadly, no matter how well a manager builds a team or how talented or experienced its members are, there will always be some form of conflict. While all kinds of engineering require logic at their core, it is too easy for emotion to get in the way.
That is where conflict management is key. Without it, conflicts can only grow, worsen, and even impact the rest of the team. Unresolved conflicts can lead to team burnout, poor quality in delivered projects, and low morale and may even increase employee turnover.
As an engineering manager, you must resolve conflicts without getting personally involved. That is to say, you cannot pick a side. The worst thing a manager can do is show preference without due cause or discussion.
Engineering managers have the challenging task of balancing the quality of work with upcoming deadlines and ensuring that their team is happy and all working on the same page.
Conflict management is not always something that managers learn on the job. However, it’s commonly taught as part of managerial disciplines. For example, you may know more about managing and balancing conflicts as part of the Kettering Online Masters in Engineering Management program. This program delivers the holistic leadership and communication skills needed to manage other engineers and a cross-disciplinary team.
No one likes conflict – but a crucial step to becoming an effective engineering manager is to accept that, in many cases, it’s inevitable. It’s how you progress past conflicts that counts.
Engineering management is no simple feat. It requires great patience, focus, drive, and passion.
In addition, you’ll also need quite a few skills to become an effective and inspiring engineering manager. Thankfully, these aren’t skills that you need to have from birth.
From technical expertise and time planning to project management, conflict liaising, and leadership skills, there are ways and means for you to learn how to become a fantastic engineering manager.
You can learn much of what you need to know about engineering management on the job, while a university degree can also help provide an extra leg up and boost forward in the right direction.