Essential Civil Engineering Skills

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Working civil engineering

In today’s highly competitive global world, civil engineers who possess the proper training, education, and experience often find they have multiple professional opportunities and options. These highly-skilled engineers use their wide range of knowledge to grow and foster successful careers in both the public and private sectors.

For those civil engineers who are early on in their professional journey or those who are looking to further their advancement, it’s important to have a solid grasp of the essential civil engineering skills that are necessary for success.

One way civil engineers can develop or enhance their skill set is by earning an online Master of Science in Civil Engineering degree.

What Does a Civil Engineer Do?

Civil engineers play an essential role in the building of public projects. They supervise the construction projects they design, whether for government organizations or in the private sector. Civil engineers oversee a variety of projects relating to highways, bridges, dams, airports, roads, tunnels, and other infrastructure. They work on construction sites as well as in offices.

Civil engineers are involved in establishing an overall goal and vision for projects, as well as surveying the cost of materials and labor. While they create long-term plans for projects, they also analyze the day-to-day details of how projects are progressing.

After securing approval to build by local, state, or federal organizations, civil engineers test the soil of project sites and select building materials accordingly. In addition to identifying environmental hazards, civil engineers are responsible for writing risk-analysis reports about potential hazards. Civil engineers also work on repairing infrastructures that have been damaged by environmental factors or other causes.

Civil Engineer Qualifications

The job description of civil engineers requires professionals to create and design large-scale plans, keeping in mind compliance with a variety of regulations. Due to the range of job duties, professionals in the field need to have certain qualifications and demonstrate certain civil engineering skills.

For those starting off in the field, the first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, civil engineering technology, or a specialized branch of engineering. Some people choose to specialize in specific areas of civil engineering, such as transportation engineering, structural engineering, or geotechnical engineering, among others.

After completing conventional classroom courses and fieldwork, bachelor’s degree graduates may pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering. Students should ensure their undergraduate and graduate programs are accredited by ABET (the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), so they can earn their professional engineering license.

8 Civil Engineering Skills

The following skills are essential for professionals who are committed to finding success in the engineering field.

1. Technical Training

The foundation for any career in engineering, especially the field of civil engineering, is an understanding and working knowledge of science. This includes chemistry, physics, biology, and the computer sciences. Students who are vying for careers in the civil engineering field these days have an upper hand, as their formal undergraduate and graduate coursework helps lay a foundation for their technical training. Some states also require that civil engineers obtain a Professional Engineer’s license (PE), especially when working with the public.

2. Mathematical Skills

The principles of mathematics are applicable to the day-to-day duties and routines of civil engineers. To succeed as a civil engineer, engineering students need to have a thorough understanding of algebra, calculus, trigonometry, and geometry. In some areas of specialization, such as transportation engineering and water resources engineering, a basic understanding of statistics is a plus.

3. Written Communication Skills

Civil engineers at every level need to be able to communicate in a clear and concise way via written reports and correspondence. Often, civil engineers communicate with other professionals of various backgrounds, such as architects, urban planners, regional planners, and other technicians and tradespeople. Other aspects of the job may require communicating with elected officials, citizens, and others who may not possess technical backgrounds in engineering or science. This varied communication requires civil engineers to write in an easily understandable and straightforward manner for their many audiences.

4. Oral Communication Skills

Another essential civil engineering skill includes oral communication. This entails being able to listen to clients, officials, team members, and other skilled workers to effectively grasp their concerns and requests. Strong speaking skills are also necessary for civil engineers to concisely explain complex technical information to coworkers and other project stakeholders.

5. Leadership Skills

In large part, responsibility for the outcomes of projects falls on the civil engineers who manage them. Therefore, it is important that managers have significant leadership skills when overseeing planners, technicians, technologists, surveyors, contractors, and others who contribute directly to projects. This involves being able to plan and prioritize, manage time effectively, delegate duties when necessary, make decisions with confidence and authority, and motivate all members of the team.

6. Organizational Skills

One of the main duties of a licensed civil engineer is to monitor and evaluate the progress of work at a job site. This includes making sure staff are in compliance with design documents, project plans, and other rules and regulations. Licensed civil engineers are also the only ones who can sign design documents for infrastructure projects. Being responsible for official project documents, working on multiple projects at once, organizing project information, managing teams, and allocating resources means civil engineers must have finely tuned organizational skills.

7. Problem Solving

Problem-solving is another vital civil engineering skill. During the different stages of a project, such as planning and construction, engineers encounter a number of variables that will influence the progress and outcome of a project. This is when engineers need to harness their skills, education, and experience to find safe and cost-effective solutions to the issues that arise while keeping a project on track.

8. Decision Making

While working as a leader and manager of a project, a civil engineer will need to consider the available information, conflicting constituent goals, professional ethics, financial responsibilities, and safety concerns when making decisions. They need to have confidence in themselves, their teams, and the information at hand to make decisions that are clear and effective. Also, when mistakes are made, effective civil engineers take responsibility, learn from what went wrong, and guide the project on a new path.

Earn a Civil Engineering Degree

As technology evolves and the needs of growing populations change, civil engineers need to continually strengthen their existing skill sets and develop new competencies. Each new civil engineering skill can help civil engineers land their dream job, or rise through the ranks in their existing organization.

For more than a century, Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology has been teaching engineers how to create for good, and engineer a better future, through sustainable design.

Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program — and how it prepares students to effectively supervise, plan, design, construct, and operate the infrastructures that connect our modern world.

Recommended Readings

Civil Engineering Resource and Career Guide
A Civil Engineer’s Look at Roads and Highways
Civil Engineering Failures That Led to New Technology Breakthroughs


Balance Careers, “Civil Engineer Skills for Resumes, Cover Letters, and Interviews”
Houston Chronicle, “What Are the Most Important Skills for a Civil Engineer?”
Truity, “Civil Engineer Career Profile: Job Description, Salary, and Growth”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Civil Engineers
U.S. News and World Report, “Civil Engineer: Career Rankings, Salary, Reviews and Advice”