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Arkansas State University

What Makes a Great Leader in Engineering?

Leadership plays a vital role in the success of a team. This holds true for the role engineering managers play in teams of engineers. Learning leadership skills is an important part of a Master of Engineering Management degree program, which prepares students for management roles in the engineering industry.

Successful engineering leadership involves helping individuals work together to achieve team and company goals. To support the team effort, great leaders provide communication, motivation, guidance and more.

The Importance of Communication and Motivation

Great leaders do everything possible to ensure their team members can do their best work. If a leader works to help each team member reach their highest potential and improve their abilities over time, increased productivity and better results follow. In helping team members thrive, good managers enable the company to succeed. While managers might face the big challenge of helping a team reach its full potential, communication and motivation can go a long way toward making it happen.

An important step for leaders is to get to know all members of the team, including how each works best and wants to be treated. Matching people with projects they enjoy and excel at can make a big difference in a team’s effectiveness. Motivation is also a key factor. Learning what motivates each team member and providing that motivation can encourage all members to give their best effort.

Through all stages of a project — before, during and after — communication is essential. A team needs to clearly understand not only the manager’s expectations for a project but also the milestones that will indicate progress. A manager’s regular check-ins during a project can help ensure the project stays on track and can also reveal any minor problems that require addressing before they grow into major ones. After project completion, it is important to take time to look back and see what worked and what did not. This is especially important when things go wrong, so that the same issues can be avoided in the future.

Leadership Is About Guidance and Support

Engineering teams require an environment that fosters success. Part of a leader’s responsibility is to create that environment by ensuring the team has the necessary tools and resources. Minimizing or removing distractions, interruptions, and other impediments can also contribute to team success — this could mean the manager gets out of the way of the engineers to let them to work efficiently.

Monitoring progress, providing feedback and measuring success are all part of a manager’s contributions to efficient team performance. Allowing team members the time and space to discuss the project, including successes and any causes for concern, can help improve teamwork. It may sometimes be necessary for a manager to reassign responsibilities or reassess a project, but the more a team can work through tight spots on its own, the stronger its members are likely to become.

Other Key Factors in Great Engineering Leadership

In many cases, communication skills can be more important for engineering managers than technical skills. Managers have to interact not just with their own teams but with the rest of the company as a whole. They may have to communicate with other departments, including human resources and marketing, as well as with other executives. They also need to be able to present the information received from other departments to their own teams in a way that everyone can understand.

Great leaders have confidence in their teams and themselves, but they also admit to their mistakes. Taking responsibility for mistakes, and apologizing when necessary, can help leaders gain the trust and respect of team members. Denying fault when they do make mistakes, however, can have the opposite effect and result in a loss of credibility. Along the same lines, great leaders stand up for their teams and give credit when it is due.

It takes an optimal blend of education, skill and experience for managers to provide great engineering leadership. Earning a master’s in engineering management can put students aspiring to management careers on the path to leadership excellence.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s Online Master of Engineering Management.


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Tech Crunch: Becoming an Engineering Manager

DesignNews: What Makes a Great Engineering Manager?

Rothman: Successful Engineering Management: 7 Lessons Learned

Inc.: 5 Steps to Creating Really Effective Teams

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