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Problem-Solving Skills for Engineering Management

Engineering is the science of solving problems, but another crucial element to a role in this field is the art of employing soft skills that complement technical expertise. Professionals gain these capabilities through advanced degrees in engineering management to move their careers forward.

Regardless of industry, company, field, technology or other particular, the Engineering Management Institute describes four categories of problems solved by technical capability. Those categories are:

  1. General problems resolved with pre-determined calculations in an organization’s existing data sets
  2. General problems with known industry solutions that have not yet been solved for a particular company; for instance, there are industry-wide best practices for integrating purpose-made software into information technology infrastructure but must be scaled for the company application
  3. Problems that seem to have neither a company nor industry solution model until an investigation reveals they do
  4. Unique problems that have neither a company nor industry solution model

The technical expertise essential to engineering management includes problem-solving skills such as identifying, applying the Engineering Management Institute’s four problem types to a given situation, interpreting statistical and deterministic models and evaluating solution alternatives.

The Master of Engineering Management online program offered by Arkansas State University (A-State) equips graduates with that expertise through electives such as Special Problems in Engineering Management and core courses including Engineering Statistics, Project Management for Engineers and Quality Control and Improvement.

Moreover, the A-State program enables students to lead teams and hone their written and oral communication skills and competence — soft problem-solving skills that complement technical expertise.

What Soft Skills Are Important for Effective Engineering Management?

A Gallup Organization survey of 80,000 managers found there are dozens of different management styles, the one skill that the most effective leaders possess is a distinct set of people skills that optimize individual and team performance.

“They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it,” according to a Harvard Business Review report that referenced the Gallup study.

Apollo Technical, an IT and engineering recruitment agency, identifies 10 soft skills that successful engineering managers have in their problem-solving portfolio. The top five are:

  1. Effective interpersonal communication enables engineering managers to identify engineers and technical professionals and assemble them into a team. Understanding and listening to the team ensures they know what is expected of them individually and collectively to achieve the team goal in support of the overall organizational mission.
  2. Useful constructive criticism requires technical expertise to analyze and understand where the problem-solving exercise is breaking down. The successful manager also can tactfully explain what is going wrong and how to correct it. Subordinates committed to the mission are receptive to this type of feedback.
  3. Valued team leaders lead by example and inspire trust among members. Active managers also can distinguish between authority and responsibility, how to delegate the former and when to take the latter. Taking ownership and accountability builds trust among the team members and encourages them to avoid and resolve team conflicts.
  4. Efficient strategic thinking demonstrates to upper management that the team leader understands the project details and supports the initiative to get ahead of the problems. Apollo references data sets compiled by Joseph Folkman, Ph.D., a psychometrician with expertise on change management, to note that waiting for direction may jeopardize the project — and management career.
  5. Expert emotional intelligence comprises a leaders ability to identify their own and team members’ emotions and manage them. Effective managers empathize with employees’ emotions and return the appropriate emotional response.

“These engineering management skills are some of the top ones to develop over a career,” Apollo notes. “They will help a manager develop a stronger skillset throughout their career and a more effective leader of people.”

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

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