Engineering projects are typically quite complex—even when they’re on a modest scale. Many different disciplines and technical specialties are required to achieve the desired results and ensure a satisfactory level of reliability. To bring these different specialties together and keep them aligned with the same goal, engineering projects need someone to offer leadership.
As such, developing leadership skills is an important way for engineering professionals to add value to the projects they work on; what’s more, leadership skills can position engineers for career advancement, allowing them to assume supervisory roles and increased decision-making authority. One way to learn more about leadership in engineering is to pursue an advanced education from a program such as an online Master of Engineering Management.
What Is Leadership in Engineering?
Engineering teams are generally given very specific instructions for each project: they must meet all client specifications; complete the project on time; stay on budget; and offer every reasonable assurance of safety, durability, and quality control. Accomplishing all this means harnessing different engineering professionals’ distinct expertise and keeping them focused on the shared goal. This is the engineering leader’s primary duty.
The Responsibilities of an Engineering Leader
Specifically, an engineering leader’s responsibilities may be divided into the following categories:
- Managing people. Any engineering team is staffed with individuals representing different disciplines and areas of professional focus. Part of the leader’s job is guiding and motivating these diverse employees, ensuring that all individuals achieve at the highest level of their ability.
- Managing teams. Engineering leaders not only nurture individuals’ talents and abilities but also create team cohesion and unity. For example, leaders may set goals and remind team members of those goals. Leaders also clarify expectations and hold team members accountable.
- Managing projects. Engineering leaders must communicate with clients, ensuring that they understand the project specifications while also highlighting any issues, obstacles, or changes that arise.
Styles of Leadership in Engineering
Engineers have more than one way to lead their teams. Consider four of the most common approaches to leadership in engineering.
Autocratic leaders make decisions by themselves and expect the rest of the team to go along with them. An autocratic style doesn’t lend itself to collaboration, but it may sometimes be the best approach, particularly when urgent deadlines demand that decisions be made right away.
Democratic leaders solicit input from those who report to them and welcome the whole team’s participation. Democratic leaders foster work environments where everyone feels free to speak up, voice an opinion, and contribute to the group. This leadership style is best suited for situations in which decisions aren’t as urgent.
Laissez-faire leaders take more of a “hands-off” approach, allowing team members to make decisions for themselves. This leadership style can be a good way to handle employees who are experienced and who have proven themselves trustworthy, though leaders must still set clear expectations and monitor progress.
Transformational leaders use their charisma to inspire and motivate their employees, encouraging team members to be confident in what they do. Generally, the transformational leadership style is best suited for dynamic, highly interactive work environments.
A crucial note about leadership in engineering is that no one “correct” way to approach it exists. Rather, engineering leaders may wish to adapt their leadership style to the project at hand.
Leadership Skills for Engineering Managers
To be effective leaders, engineers must cultivate several essential skills and professional traits.
The most foundational leadership skills include the following:
- Communication. Leaders need to know how to set a vision and convey expectations. At the same time, they must know how to actively listen to their team members’ concerns.
- Decision-making. After seeking feedback from clients and team members, leaders must ultimately feel confident in making informed decisions and conveying them to those who report to them.
- Teamwork. Leaders should be prepared to foster cohesive team environments, both by example and by trusting those who report to them.
While these skills may be strengthened and refined through professional experience, aspiring engineering leaders may start to cultivate them in school. Ohio University’s online Master of Engineering Management and engineering leadership certificate programs offer an opportunity to hone the skills that contribute to optimal, efficient project management and team building.
Start Developing Engineering Leadership Skills
To lay the foundation for successful leadership in an engineering career, consider Ohio University. The school’s online Master of Engineering Management is an advanced degree for engineers looking to move into leadership. The curriculum includes such courses as Lean Thinking Methods, Engineering Law, and Foundations of Engineering Management.
Ohio University also offers graduate certificates in engineering management, engineering leadership, certified Lean Six Sigma, and engineering analytics, all of which can provide the skills and competencies necessary to assume higher levels of responsibility in the engineering world.
Ultimate Guide to Lean Thinking: Strategies, Tips, and Resources for Optimizing Processes
Information Systems Engineering: Leadership in a Growing Industry
Essential Soft Skills for Engineers in Leadership Roles
Business News Daily, “What Kind of Leader Are You? 9 Leadership Types and Their Strengths”
Forbes, “8 Essential Qualities That Define Great Leadership”
Houston Chronicle, “The Difference Between an Engineering Manager & a Project Manager”
Ohio University, Engineering Leadership: More Than Management
Ohio University, Engineering Project Management: Methods and Best Practices
Verywell Mind, “Autocratic Leadership”
Verywell Mind, “The Democratic Style of Leadership”