Leadership, Engineer Style

Christian Knutson | Comments | November 12, 2012

A lot is written about leadership but not a lot about what it means specifically for the engineering professional.  For certain the essential elements such as vision, influence, communicating, empathy and attitude are present as much for the engineer as they are for a leader of industry, the military or government.  However, there are specific personality characteristics found in engineers that are less prevalent in other professionals – understanding teams, detail orientation, and innate curiosity, just to name a few.

When you meld your distinct, engineer-like personality attributes with the key essentials of leadership, you end up with an exceptional combination.  This is a combination that builds others, along with building buildings, roadways and a better tomorrow.

Direction.  Engineers like to have a vector to follow and people expect to receive vectors from their leaders.  A natural congruency?  It can be.  Learn to give direction that others follow, or even seek, and you’re a leader.

Teamwork.  Engineers don’t design alone; they do so as part of a team.  Even solo consultant’s work as part of a team.  An engineer’s understanding of teamwork translates into knowing how team relationships work – what to do, how to do it, and what not to do.  This inter-personal relationship knowledge is a huge win for a leader.

Details Are Important, People Are More Important.  The details of a project, a design element, or some other technical aspect are important.  Engineers are good at working with details.  Working with people is all about details as well:  personalities, skills, aptitudes, backgrounds, etc.  Apply the same level of focus used to understand project details to understanding the details of your team or employees and you’ll easily be followed.

Technical Proficiency.  Engineers are into maintaining their technical proficiency through continuing education.  For engineer leaders, this segues into ensuring the technical proficiency of employees.   It also means that employees will hold more than just positional respect for the engineer leader.  Knowing that your boss has the ability to deliver the goods themselves is a major motivator for a team.

Each person has their own leadership style and it takes years to develop it and multiple opportunities at the helm to master it.  So the best time to start working on your engineer leadership style is today, in the position you currently hold.  Move ahead in your efforts by leveraging your engineer character traits to make your leadership style one that fits you, not one that you have to learn to fit.

“There is no use whatever trying to help people who do not help themselves. You cannot push anyone up a ladder unless he be willing to climb himself.”  Andrew Carnegie

Chris Knutson, P.E., PMP is a leadership and strategy coach, practicing engineer and program manager. He is co-founder of The Engineering Career Coach, a company providing engineers and engineering companies core skills, leadership, and lifestyle design services enabling them to execute their vision. Chris is a retired U.S. Air Force civil engineer officer with over two decades of active duty service leading engineering organizations and multi-million dollar programs around the globe. Learn more about his work and access more resources at The Engineering Career Coach.

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