Engineering management places a high emphasis on both technical knowledge and people skills. An engineering manager must coordinate a team of professionals with different personalities and skills, and must have enough knowledge on all technical fields involved in the project.
Successful engineering managers are leaders who create the right conditions for top performance. They can decide which tasks can be delegated and which require their direct involvement, ensuring that engineers have all the information and tools required.
The Professional Background of Engineering Managers
Engineering has many technical disciplines, and most professional engineers specialize in one field. They may gain knowledge and experience in other areas throughout their carrier, but their strongest skills will tend to focus on their area of expertise. Engineering managers are often engineers who started in a technical position such as MEP design or cost estimation, and then developed management skills.
Becoming an expert on many engineering areas is unlikely, but engineering managers must have at least basic knowledge about all areas involved in projects.
- For example, an electrical engineer in a management position may be required to direct a team with mechanical and plumbing engineers.
- Being an expert in other areas is not necessary, but the manager must have enough knowledge to lead other engineers effectively.
Modern design software such as Revit provides ample opportunities for engineers to get familiarized with other areas. All design teams work with the same model, and engineers can observe how their design interacts with those provided by other team members. In the past, different building system were designed in isolation, based only on architectural drawings.
Balancing Technical and Interpersonal Skills
A successful engineering manager has a clear vision for the project, and knows how to direct the team towards the final goal. Leading an engineering team requires an awareness of individual communication styles and working methods, and successful managers make sure everyone is on the same page before moving forward with each step of the project.
Human communication is complex, and this applies even in professional fields that are highly technical. Engineering managers must be aware that concepts may be interpreted differently by others, and they make an effort to clarify all doubts.
Emotional intelligence is another hallmark of successful engineering managers: they handle their own emotions effectively, and help team members do the same. Managers can understand perspectives that are different from their own, and they don’t take disagreements personally.
Why An Engineering Manager Must Be a Good Planner
An engineering project can be broken down into a large number of individual tasks. Some tasks can be accomplished independently, but others follow sequences or require coordination from different teams. Consider an hydronic HVAC system, for example, which involves mechanical, electrical and plumbing work.
Qualified engineers can handle work within their area of expertise effectively, but there can be confusion if nobody is coordinating how the pieces fit together. This falls under the responsibility of the engineering manager, who must break down the project into tasks, to then delegate them and track progress.
Knowing When to Delegate and When to Get Involved
Engineering projects are team efforts, and assuming every single decision is unfeasible for the team leader. A successful manager can tell the difference between tasks that can be delegated fully, tasks that need partial involvement, and tasks that require close supervision.
With respect to management style, the extremes can be detrimental for the project: an engineering manager who is absent and leaves everything to the team cannot provide effective direction, but micromanaging is not recommended either.
Engineering management combines technical knowledge and people skills, and team leaders must excel at both to direct projects successfully. Good planning skills are also required, and engineering managers must judge which degree of involvement is required from their part in different tasks.
Engineering managers typically have an area of expertise, and leading engineers from other areas can seem like a daunting task. However, this does not mean that a manager must be an expert on all engineering fields: they must have enough knowledge to guide the project effectively, but can rely on specialists for detailed aspects that fall outside of their expertise.
Michael Tobias PE is a visionary in the construction industry. His passion resonates as the
Founding Principal of New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 fastest growing company. New York
Engineers is the most innovative construction engineering firm focusing on Mechanical,
Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) engineering designs in Chicago and New York. Michael has overseen the design of over 1000 construction projects in all market sectors, including LEED certified and Passive House certified projects. He leads a global team of 50 top performers.