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What Makes a Good Engineering Manager?

Engineers and engineering managers have a lot in common, but there are also some significant differences between them. Engineering managers tend to have more of an interest in the business or management aspects of an engineering career. While good engineering managers will share much of the same technical knowledge as the engineers they oversee, their focus is more on making sure teams are performing at levels that will meet company goals.

If working with people and business concepts in an engineering environment is something you are interested in, an online Master of Engineering Management (MEM) degree program may be a good fit. Programs like these offer the skills you need to add management chops to your engineering background.

Becoming a good engineering manager is about more than earning a degree. It takes applying what you learn to real-world situations. The traits, skills and experiences that define good engineering managers fall into three broad categories: project management, people management and business management.

Good Engineering Managers Know Project Management

Project management is a big part of being an engineering manager, and it requires several different types of skills, including time management, organization and communication. Projects have a lot of moving parts:

  • Objectives.
  • Deadlines.
  • Deliverables.
  • Budgets.
  • Collaboration.
  • Management.
  • Accountability.

Managers have to understand how these parts work together for each project. This also involves understanding the skill sets of the team members involved and how they all contribute to the project.

Further, engineering managers may have more than one project in development at any given time. Time management, multitasking and staying calm under pressure are all valuable skills.

Good managers know how to clearly communicate objectives and tasks to their team members. They explain the overall importance of objectives and the ultimate purpose of a given task. They know their teams’ strengths and weaknesses, and they set appropriate expectations that are realistic but challenging.

Communication and Interpersonal Relationship Skills Are Essential

Managers work with people, and engineering managers are no exception. Good engineering managers have excellent communication skills, which are necessary for effective project management, conflict resolution, interacting with superiors and many other responsibilities. In fact, there is little in an engineering manager’s day-to-day duties that does not require communication skills.

Good managers understand that different team members and coworkers may need different forms of communication. Managers should be adaptive and flexible, and they should pay attention to how the individuals they oversee respond to different methods of receiving information.

Good engineering managers also cultivate relationships with the members of their teams, learning their capabilities and how best to bring out their strengths. Motivation plays a key role in this. Knowing a team member’s main motivations is invaluable in guiding interactions with that team member. A good manager will take the time to find out what drives their team members and will put that knowledge to good use in encouraging better performance.

Forming relationships across different teams and departments is another hallmark of a good engineering manager. Breaking down barriers to collaboration helps everyone do their jobs more effectively.

Meeting the Goals of the Business Is the Overall Objective

A manager’s ultimate job is to help ensure the success of the business. Companies want to minimize costs while maximizing results. Teams working on projects, however, require resources to complete their objectives. Managers are in the middle, trying to keep leadership teams happy while ensuring their own teams get the support they need.

A good engineering manager understands the needs of both sides and how to maintain the balance between them. This means keeping the team on task and within budgets and deadlines. It also means knowing what the team needs — the time, resources and working environment — and meeting those needs.

For a team of engineers to excel, it needs a great engineering manager. Managers have an important impact on the productivity — and job satisfaction — of the teams they manage. Good engineering managers, like good engineers, want to solve problems. Through their roles as managers, they provide the environment, resources and high-level views necessary for great work.

The online MEM program at Arkansas State University provides students with a solid engineering management foundation, including experience necessary to become a great engineering manager.

Learn more about the A-State online MEM program.


Monster: What attributes make a good Engineering manager?

TechCrunch: Becoming An Engineering Manager

Product Design & Development: 5 Traits of Exceptional Engineering Managers

First Round Review: This Is What Impactful Engineering Leadership Looks Like

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