Career Comparison: MEM vs. Project Manager

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under College of Engineering | View all blog posts under Online Master of Engineering Management

 

Engineering manager greets team member.

As noted by The Federal Times, when it comes to engineering managers vs. project managers, the two should be considered separate fields. They seem like similar jobs, but there are key differences between them. Both positions form the core of management for an engineering company; however, the management tools and the means for achieving results are markedly different for each. Engineering managers are typically responsible for managing employees, whereas project managers are responsible for managing tasks. An engineering manager, for example, is responsible for overseeing the team working to determine the structural stability of a new apartment building. A project manager who is assigned to the same project ensures that the steps involved are completed on time and within the allotted budget.

What Do Engineering Managers and Project Managers Do?

When considering engineering managers vs. project managers, it is important to view both professions through the lens of how they perform their job functions.

Engineering management employs an employee’s engineering skills alongside his or her human resources skills in order to maximize a team’s productivity. Combining expertise in the fields of technical management and financial and interpersonal management to aid running a company, the engineering manager has an operational role and is responsible for coordinating and directing projects, as well as directing other technical activities. Because of this, an engineering manager’s role is ongoing — developing and changing alongside the project he or she is working on.

Conversely, a company employs a project manager to complete a specific job. To this end, the position is job-oriented rather than team-oriented. Project managers apply their skills, knowledge, and expertise to finish a project within a specified time. Due to the nature of project management, the jobs a project manager oversees usually take much less time than those of an engineering manager.

Key Components of Analysis for an Engineering or Project Manager

Anyone looking at the roles of an engineering manager vs. a project manager will realize there are a few similarities. Both professionals automate, schedule, and analyze to figure out where their processes may be improved. The tools and principles that either of these managers may use within his or her duties follow.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a quality improvement tool that is part of the arsenal of utilities available to an engineering or project manager. Six Sigma’s core goal is to develop better communication among team members and to raise the level of interaction within the development team for a particular project or task. At its core, Six Sigma is a diagnostic tool that helps a manager figure out the underlying causes of issues such as pollution or customer dissatisfaction that may plague the organization and offer solutions that the company can use to lessen the severity of these problems.

Lean Systems Engineering

Lean Systems Engineering (LSE) is a principle used in engineering that allows for the creation of a best-value lifecycle (meaning the least cost possible for current and future expenses) for an engineering process with a focus on the generation of less waste. It stems from the foundation of lean thinking, which is a methodology that emphasizes both delivering more benefits to society and reducing waste. LSE is the practical application of lean thinking, whereby a company offers the value of a product to a consumer while minimizing practices that may be considered wasteful. It’s a useful technique for both engineering and project managers to use to reduce the amount of materials required to develop a product, while not compromising the product’s value to the customer.

Data Analytics

Data analytics relies on the analysis of massive amounts of data to draw insight from that data. Usually, in an engineering management position, this data is collected from processes within the organization. By using data analytics suites, such as Domo Data Science Suite or Pivotal Data Suite, engineering and project managers can gain insight into the current processes, uncover where they are inefficient, and design methods for improving their efficiency and reliability.

Financial Analysis

Financial analysis stems from the need for a company to evaluate its finances in relation to the execution of projects within the scope of a business budget. Engineering and project managers need to understand financial analysis to the extent that it allows them to determine whether a project or task is worth the money that the company intends to spend on it. It requires the application of knowledge about the costs and potential benefits of investing in new hardware, software, or personnel.

Skills of an Engineering Manager vs. a Project Manager

A comparison of engineering manager vs. project manager can be broken down into the similarities and differences in skills required for each role. There are some areas of overlap and some areas where they require slightly different skills due to their roles in a given project.

Engineering Management Skills

Among the skills and competencies an engineering manager ought to have are:

  • Vision: At their core, engineering managers are team leaders. Vision is part of what makes a good leader: the ability to see what a client needs and what it takes to get there.
  • Judgment: Because of the level of responsibility of the job, engineering managers are regularly called upon to make judgment calls that may affect the overall functioning of the company. Attention to detail is a critical component of making good decisions.
  • Responsibility: Engineering managers must bear the responsibility for their team’s work ethic and quality.
  • Communication: Engineering managers need to be able to communicate effectively to ensure that their team is on the same page as far as priorities and project requirements.
  • Delegation: Engineering managers, like other types of team managers, are expected to be able to delegate a job to responsible members of their team, keeping in mind aspects of the project that may apply to each role, such as budget, time, and expenses.

Project Management Skills

Project managers require a similar skill set to that of engineering managers for the proper execution of their jobs. Among the skills that a project manager requires are:

  • Risk Management: Being able to predict and plan for problems that may affect a project’s cost or timeliness before they surface makes for efficient project managers.
  • Organization: Project managers need to be organized to maintain the efficiency of a given project.
  • Negotiation: Resources, budgets, and even scheduling for employees all come down to the art of negotiation, which is an extension of the ability of project managers to communicate effectively.
  • Leadership: Project managers need to demonstrate positive leadership characteristics such as setting goals and resolving conflicts.
  • Delegation: Project management teams usually have designated specialists for particular tasks, and project managers need to know who they are and be willing to delegate relevant tasks to competent individuals.

Job Outlook and Potential Salaries

The field of engineering management is well paid, as the latest statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggest. As of May 2018, the median annual salary for an architectural or engineering manager was $140,760, with those earning salaries in the highest 10% of the range, making as much as $208,000. This is significantly higher than other comparable management positions and suggests that engineering management is an in-demand area of expertise.

While the BLS does not collect data on project managers, according to Payscale, the average salary has reached $111,000 in 2018.

Over the period of 2016 to 2026, employment for engineering management is projected to see growth of 6%, according to the BLS. However, some industries are likely to grow faster than others. For example, the engineering services industry is forecast to see a growth of 13% between 2016 and 2026.

Competition for jobs in this field is likely to be very high. Candidates who are looking at entering the field of engineering can benefit from an advanced degree that will offer them the skills and knowledge necessary to perform their jobs. The Ohio University online Master of Engineering Management program offers students the tools and competencies they need to be successful in the field.

Recommended Readings:

Engineering Management vs. Project Management

Four Critical Tools in a Quality Management System

What Is an Engineering Management Degree?

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook –  Architectural and Engineering Managers

Payscale, Average Project Manager, (Unspecified Type / General) Salary

Chron, “The Difference Between an Engineering Manager & a Project Manager”

Dataconomy, “Data Analytics Is the Key Skill for the Modern Engineer

Engineering Strategy News, “5 Must-Have Skills for Engineering Managers

Federal Times, “Bureau of Labor Statistics Recognizes Importance of Project Managers

Liquid Planner: “6 Essential Skills for Project Managers