Effective management in any industry requires a combination of hard and soft skills. In the field of engineering, effective managers need soft skills to lead and motivate, and hard skills that give them the knowledge and technical know-how to actually do their job. A combination of skills is necessary for the successful completion of projects that meet deadlines and budgets.
For engineering managers to succeed, they need to be able to manage individuals, adhere to strict timelines, allocate resources and manage budgets. They must also be able to communicate between different stakeholders, coordinate interdisciplinary teams, quantify results, troubleshoot when problems arise, and be creative when looking for solutions.
Soft skills are a critical component of success in engineering management. Soft skills include traits such as communication, problem-solving, collaboration, decision-making and conflict resolution. These skills are key in ensuring that engineering teams function effectively and efficiently. Good organizational and time management skills are also required to meet deadlines and budget allocations.
An engineering manager needs to be able to communicate effectively with their team to coordinate all aspects of the operations of the project. It is essential that a manager and the members of the team have a common understanding of the goals and expectations for the project. This type of soft skill also ensures that conflicts get resolved and feedback is shared to ensure that the expectations of the team are met.
Consistent communication helps the team stay focused and ensures that the same message is conveyed to every team member so that the work is unified. Communication should flow both ways so that there is a constant and open dialogue between the members of the engineering team.
Being an effective problem solver is crucial for an engineering manager so that they have the ability to identify and address issues and come up with creative solutions. Pairing this soft skill with a hard skill such as technical knowledge makes an engineering manager a valuable member of any team. By being able to efficiently problem solve creatively, less time is wasted brainstorming solutions, and more time can be focused on implementing the solution itself. This saves time and money, and builds a feeling of trust in the management of the team. Effective problem-solving also motivates other team members and teaches them how to solve issues that come up in the future.
When a manager is able to solve problems effectively, they convey a confidence to their team that builds trust and stability. This skill also allows the manager to handle issues quickly and in some cases proactively prevent problems from happening in the first place. These are also valuable teaching moments, as the experienced problem solver can become a mentor to juniors, who will learn the proper way of approaching a problem rather than simply reacting to it.
Collaborative work environments have been embraced by most new businesses because they promote a creative workspace where innovative thinking can lead to significant breakthroughs. Engineering managers who embrace collaboration within their team are more likely to build trust and create a strong, dynamic team. The input of all team members widens the perspective of the project, and what might have been a standard or average project can grow into something amazing.
Collaboration requires more than just communicating ideas – specific jobs must be assigned with well-laid-out timelines and expectations. Engineering managers can create a synergy with team members by giving everyone a specific task and allowing them the freedom to get creative within the boundaries of budget and time.
Engineering managers need to be strong decision makers because they are responsible for the successful outcome of the project. Uncertainty or taking too long to deliberate can cause a team to lose faith in their leader, and there is then the risk that the project will not be finished on time or on budget.
A manager needs to be able to see the nuances of the decision ahead of them and be confident that the decision they are making is in the best interests of the project. However, they also need to be open to suggestions from team members. Collaboration and decision-making can go hand in hand for engineering managers because there is more than one point of view being taken into consideration.
Decision-making also involves an understanding of all stakeholders’ points of view so that any conflicts that arise can be dealt with fairly and intelligently. The decisions should always take into account the safety and integrity of everyone involved, including the community that the project will be affecting.
The ability to resolve conflicts is crucial for any engineering manager as it ensures that any disagreements that come up are dealt with professionally, fairly, and with the points of view of all parties taken into account. A successful conflict resolution is one where the issue is addressed in a timely manner and openly so that all parties feel that they are being heard and respected. This type of soft skill can also ensure that the conflict won’t affect the deadline of the project or the quality of work being done.
Resolving conflicts can help an engineering team continually move forward with little downtime dealing with a dispute. On large-scale projects, this skill can prevent costly issues such as delays or even lawsuits from happening. The team is also more likely to resolve their own conflicts going forward because of the open atmosphere of the team.
Time management skills
These skills ensure that the team has their tasks assigned with a well-communicated timeline. A good manager will understand when the timeline needs to be adjusted and will also regularly follow up with the team so that any potential issues that could jeopardize the deadline can be addressed early on. Good time management skills will also help to manage resources effectively, as any resource constraints can be spotted quickly and addressed.
Time management skills also involve the ability to break down large tasks into small manageable ones so that every step can be monitored. For an engineering team, every detail of a project is crucial, and so breaking up the tasks can provide a great opportunity to quickly pinpoint any issue and fix it before it becomes unmanageable.
Critical thinking is an important trait for engineers and managers alike because it is the process of analysis with objectivity. The critical thinker doesn’t allow any outside distractions or personal opinions to cloud their judgment and affect the project at hand. A good manager is skilled at thinking objectively regardless of whether the decision is unpopular with other stakeholders. Critical thinking is imperative when managing a team of engineers because it allows for objective problem-solving and decision-making.
When a manager displays critical thinking, the members of the team understand that they are being objective and they can trust their judgment to not be one-sided or biased. This builds trust and confidence in the management and helps the team work more confidently toward a shared goal.
Soft skills are one aspect of engineering management that is taught in the curriculum of an online engineering management master’s degree. Online and accredited schools such as uOttawa provide a flexible way for engineering professionals to get the necessary credentials to move up in their careers.
Hard skills in engineering management are crucial and include areas such as a knowledge of engineering principles, proficiency in technology, knowledge of system design, and the ability to come up with creative solutions to complex problems. A team leader should have a strong understanding of project management processes to execute the project goals effectively.
Knowledge of engineering principles
Knowledge of engineering principles is important to engineering management because it lets the manager direct their team effectively after evaluating the project. When a manager has a clear understanding of the principles of engineering, they have the qualifications to identify potential issues and anticipate risks. This way, they can come up with solutions ahead of time. This knowledge is essential for the manager when communicating with their teams to properly assign tasks and deadlines that are realistic.
A thorough understanding of engineering principles is important for ensuring the accuracy of the designs of the project. Any errors in an engineering design can have huge ramifications that can be costly and time-consuming, so an engineering manager needs to have the necessary knowledge to avoid those errors. If the team is involved in product development, then an understanding of engineering principles can help design a testing method that is reliable, accurate, and able to be reproduced.
Technical proficiency in system design
Systems design is an important concept in engineering management, as it provides the basis for implementing efficient processes and managing complex systems. This hard skill means that the engineering manager has an understanding of the complexities of system behavior, the ability to organize those elements into a design, and the capacity to identify any issues that could occur. This skill allows engineering managers to make better decisions on strategy, efficiency and scalability of their design.
Areas of system design may include understanding the problem and identifying solutions, creating data flow diagrams, formulating entity relationship models, building process and control flow models, developing an architecture to support the system’s business requirements, setting up security protocols, designing user interfaces, and introducing user authentication.
Deep understanding of technology
A good engineering manager should have a solid grasp of the technologies of the industry as well as knowledge of new innovations in the field. This understanding can help managers make better decisions when choosing a platform to work with, creating engineering designs, and integrating systems. A solid knowledge of technology can open up the opportunities for any engineering team to work on a project with the latest techniques and trends. This way, they can stay competitive in the industry.
Engineering managers can keep up to date on new technologies that are available and those that are in the testing phases. They can take these innovations and create more advanced designs to build better products and services. Technology such as image recognition and 3D modeling can add a new element to the way that the team works and can potentially enable projects to be completely more quickly and with a lower budget.
Develop creative solutions to complex problems
The ability to apply creative solutions to complex problems comes from experience and knowledge. A good engineering manager will be able to think outside the box and look toward their team for input on problems that may require a little more deliberation. This type of problem-solving can lead to innovations in systems, designs and processes that will prevent the issue from coming up again, or at least diminish the impact on the overall project. Creative solutions can help engineering managers stay one step ahead of their competition and make them more relevant in the industry.
Ways to develop creative solutions include brainstorming, reframing the problem, looking for patterns, and encouraging collaboration with team members. Brainstorming involves coming up with as many ideas as possible, no matter how off the wall, in order to get the creative juices flowing. Reframing a problem involves changing the context or point of view in order to generate fresh ideas and perspectives. Looking for patterns means searching for similarities and connections between seemingly unrelated elements or phenomena and combining them to create something new.
Strong understanding of project management principles and processes
Engineering principles are not the only elements that are important for managing an engineering team. An understanding of project management is also crucial to getting and keeping a project on track and heading toward a successful outcome. Project management teaches about budgeting resource allocation, progress tracking, dealing with risk, and cost control. These principles are the same regardless of the industry and may need to be tweaked to be relevant to engineering.
Engineering managers who understand project management know how to set goals that are achievable, well-communicated and measurable. They know how important it is that the project comes in on time and within budget, but they also know how to address concerns, conflicts and setbacks. Project management courses can be taught online, and it is always a good idea to update these skills every few years so as not to become complacent.
Effective allocation of resources
The effective allocation of resources is essential for engineering management as it ensures that a project can be completed efficiently and within the necessary timeframe. The correct allocation of resources will help ensure that the right people and equipment are available to complete each task, and will also guarantee that there is sufficient time and budget allocated for each job. This also helps project managers ensure that projects are completed within the set budget and also prevent any last-minute surprises or shortages.
Effective resource allocation requires careful management and attention to detail. Prioritization is key to help make sure that all resources are allocated to the right tasks and projects. This may involve evaluating the amount of resources available versus the amount of resources needed, as well as any resource constraints that may be necessary. Data related to the resources should also be monitored carefully so that any changes or requirements can be noted and addressed. Good resource allocation will also help in the planning stages by ensuring that the project has sufficient resources for completion. This ultimately leads to a smoother and more successful outcome, as the project will be completed on time and within budget.
Effective engineering management involves the mixing of hard and soft skills to complete a project in the most efficient way possible within a set deadline and budget. These skills work in tandem to help motivate the team to achieve success, but also provide solid advice on any issues that may arise. When an engineering manager takes a large task and breaks it up into smaller ones, this is time management and knowledge of engineering principles working together. It is difficult to have one without the other when managing a team of engineering professionals. Hard skills include technical abilities and specific industry knowledge, while soft skills involve communication and interpersonal abilities.
Striking a balance between hard and soft skills is the key to successful management of an engineering project. All the knowledge in the world is not going to help the team if it isn’t communicated clearly and framed in a way that provides direction and guidelines. Soft skills allow an engineering manager to develop relationships, obtain different points of view, resolve conflicts, and build confidence, which is crucial for any team. When a manager is skilled in these traits, they can impart their vast knowledge to the team members effectively, openly, and to everyone’s benefit.