The 7 Success Competencies for Your Engineering Career

Each job has specific required and desired skills that make each position unique. Engineering positions might require certain certifications or licensure or may need someone with ten years of managerial experience or the knowledge of composite materials. However, there are seven competencies that transcend all engineering positions. Master these and you can ensure success in any position you occupy.

Each job has specific required and desired skills that make each position unique.  Engineering positions might require certain certifications or licensure or may need someone with ten years of managerial experience or the knowledge of composite materials.  

There will certainly be differences from opening to opening. It’s evident that a position at a small architectural/engineering firm and the U.N. Field Operations Services will have a different set of required and desired skills.

However, there are seven competencies that transcend situations.  Master these and you can ensure success in any position you occupy.

The 7 Success Competencies

Mastery of these seven competencies won’t occur overnight and isn’t marked by a specific end target.  I’ve worked for over twenty years as a civil engineer and project professional and I’m still growing and developing.  Where I have achieved mastery, I continually work to maintain my competency.

Every successful engineer or project professional began his or her career at the entry level and continues to grow in each of these competencies.   Remember: it’s all about the journey and not an end destination!

Achievement.  This is the drive to work towards a standard of excellence.  It may reflect individual performance, improvement, result orientation, competitiveness, challenging goals, or innovation.

  • Entry Level:  Works to meet standards.  Executes duties in a timely, efficient manner.  May express frustration at waste or inefficiency.
  • Mastery Level:  Demonstrates decisiveness based on solid considerations and trade-offs.  Makes decisions without hesitation.  Prioritizes recommendations for process improvements based on overall benefits to the organization/client. Develops quantitative cost/benefit analyses to measure improvements.

Analytical Thinking.  Includes organizing the parts of a problem or a situation, making systematic comparisons of different aspects of it, understanding the implications, setting priorities on a rational basis, identifying time sequences and finding causal relationships.

  • Entry Level:  Breaks down problems.  Makes a list of items that need doing with no particular order of priority.  Pulls together data, ideas, issues and observations into a clear and useful format.
  • Mastery Level:  Makes complex plans or analyses.  Uses various analytical techniques to break complex problems into component parts.  Selectively examines and absorbs a large amount of diverse data.

Change Leadership.  Initiates and manages change.  Has the ability to energize and alert groups to the need for specific changes in the way things are done.

  • Entry Level:  Supports general need for change.  Interacts with others to assist them to understand the need for change.  Supports the change process and helps others cope with the change.
  • Masterly Level:  Champions change.  Takes direct action to reinforce the change effort.  Has the courage to champion new initiatives even when benefits aren’t clear to everyone.  Advocates a continuous improvement culture.

Impact and Influence.  Implies the intention to persuade or convince others to get their support.  It is based on the intent to have a specific impact or effect on the behavior of others who have their own agendas.

  • Entry Level:  Takes a single action to persuade.  Uses direct persuasion in a discussion or presentation with intention of producing a specific effect or impact.  May appeal to reason, data, or another person’s self-interest.
  • Mastery Level:  Uses complex influence strategies.  Identifies significant internal and external stakeholders and builds partnerships with them as part of an influencing strategy.  Builds “behind-the-scenes” support for ideas.  Uses an in-depth understanding of interactions within a group to move forward initiatives or agendas.

Initiative.  Refers to the action taken to address a current or future problem, obstacle or opportunity.  Initiative should be seen in the context of proactively doing things and not simply thinking about future actions.

  • Entry Level:  Reacts to short-term opportunities or problems.  Anticipates problems, resistance or likely objections and takes action to resolve them.  Recognizes opportunities and acts on them.
  • Mastery Level:  Plans and acts for the long-term.  Anticipates needs, opportunities and threats in the long-term (12 months plus) and takes action to address them.

Organizational Awareness.  The ability to understand power relationships within the organization or in other relevant organizations.  This includes the ability to identify who the real decision-makers and stakeholders are; the individuals who can influence them; and to predict how new events or situations will affect individuals and groups within the organization.

  • Entry Level:  Understands the organization’s structure.  Recognizes the different formal and informal structures of the organization.  Identifies key actors, and decision-influencers and applies this knowledge when required.
  • Mastery Level:  Understands underlying issues.  Recognizes and/or address the core reasons for organizational behavior.  Recognizes underlying problems, opportunities, or the political forces affecting the organization.

Teamwork.  Implies the readiness to take on the role of team member (as opposed to leader), and to work cooperatively with others.  It involves working together, as opposed to working separately or competitively.  The team is a group of any size, with or without formal structure, working toward a common objective.

  • Entry Level:  Cooperates.  Participates willingly in the team doing his/her share of the team’s work.  Shares information and knowledge freely, offering support and cooperation.
  • Mastery Level:  Works to build commitment.  Builds commitment to a common vision and shared values.  Acts to promote good working relationships, making sure that team members draw on one another’s knowledge and diversity to strengthen the team.  Uses team dynamics to create an open and constructively critical group that pushes the development of each individual.

Your and Your Competency Level

Do you feel there are more than just these seven competencies we must master to achieve ideal success?

What level are you? What are you doing to move further along the spectrum towards mastery?  And if a master already, how do you maintain your competency level?

Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP is international infrastructure development program manager, engineer, and author. He has 21 years of experience in leadership, management, engineering and international relations earned from a career in the U.S. Air Force and is author of The Engineer Leader, a recognized blog on leadership and life success for engineers and professionals.

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