Why Are Management Skills Important for Engineers?

Ensuring your management and leadership skill set is sufficient for your engineering role, no matter what it is, is imperative. Learn why here.

Woman engineer presenting new equipment and processes to business executives

As an engineer, you work on complex and expensive projects, use advanced (and often, dangerous) machinery and equipment, collaborate with a diverse team, and influence solutions that have an environmental or social impact. Engineering management skills allow engineers to navigate their work with tact, compassion, and thoughtful strategic planning to boost safety, optimize project finances, make environmentally conscious decisions, support team members, maintain diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces, and more.

As individual contributors, engineers are good at solving technical problems. However, they’re often not as strong at communicating the value of technology, leveraging data science techniques to make evidence-based decisions, or leading and inspiring teams of diverse people with empathy and inclusiveness.

-- Fred Higgs, Executive Director of the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, Faculty Director, Rice MEML graduate degree program

Management skills can help engineers overcome these universal concerns. These skill sets are transferable and applicable in all engineering industries, including mechanical, civil and environmental, aerospace and aeronautical, chemical, biomedical, industrial, and petroleum. An engineer with all-encompassing management skills is able to see the bigger picture. Engineers in leadership roles can identify and prioritize the balance between safety, efficiency, and profit, ensuring a fully rounded project. Engineering managers can connect the technical operation of the technological product or service to its economic outcomes, thereby seeing opportunities that others cannot see.

In this article, you’ll learn about the variety of management skills engineers need to improve their performance, including human skills, technical skills, and hybrid skills. We also discuss their significance and how they can impact your career.

Engineering Manager Skills And Characteristics

Examples of skills that engineering managers should have include high-level technical knowledge (from both a degree and experience), project management skills (like organization), problem-solving, emotional intelligence, and communication. All skills that managers should have fall into three main categories: human, technical, and hybrid.

These categories encompass an assortment of skill sets and characteristics, such as:

  • Human skills: Leadership, accountability, innovation, emotional intelligence, and motivation
  • Hybrid skills: Communication, problem-solving, and project management
  • Technical skills: Operations, research, troubleshooting, and integration

Understanding how to apply these skills as an engineer will benefit your career and your team. We explore these management skills and their applications in engineering below, starting with human skills.

Human Skills

Human skills are arguably the most meaningful engineering manager competencies, and they relate to how you interact with your team and leverage your position. Although your team is pursuing technical objectives, you cannot be an effective team member or leader if you aren’t able to connect with your team and maintain positive relationships.

These skills include:

  • Accountability: Holding yourself accountable for your actions and their consequences – whether intended or not – is the mark of a great leader. Accepting responsibility for situations you were part of will help you grow from mistakes and become part of the solution, and it will earn you the respect of your peers.
  • Emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence refers to being able to identify, respond to and manage your emotions as well as others’ emotions. It allows you to interact with others in a positive, calm manner that’s mindful of their needs, helping you to de-escalate conflicts, identify when peers need support, and generate positive camaraderie amongst the team.
  • Innovation: Developing creative solutions or approaches to project problems, technical processes, or team conflicts will help you and your team succeed. Being innovative when faced with a challenge is a strength that can help to avoid delays, encourage others, and find unique solutions for the situation at hand.
  • Leadership: Being able to step up and take the lead when it’s needed can prevent mistakes, accidents, and project delays. You should be able to guide others and offer support or advice when you know your experience could be useful. The code of ethics for engineers states that they are expected to exhibit the highest standards of honesty and integrity, since engineering has a vital impact on quality of life. True engineering leaders uphold this code even if it puts them at a professional and personal disadvantage.
  • Motivation/influence: The ability to motivate and influence others will help you improve morale, explain your decisions, and get everyone on the same page when it comes to project processes or goals. It can create a better work environment with few project delays and a stronger team mindset.
  • Social responsibility: An engineering leader recognizes his/her responsibility to elevate the company image by being a good corporate citizen. Being able to see the unique advantages of achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion within one’s organization and engineering teams. An engineering leader takes on the responsibility of recruiting, mentoring, and advocating for women and minorities in the tech industry, including making sure they have access to high-paying, high-satisfaction jobs. This leader also considers professional decisions and the impact they make on climate change and net carbon zero goals set by governments and corporations. As the adage goes, the engineering leader ensures that when a product or service is launched, the company and the community are proud to celebrate.

Rice University’s Master of Engineering Management and Leadership (MEML) program provides a unique, comprehensive curriculum that can help you sharpen these skills and advance your engineering career.

Technical Skills

Technical skills are directly related to the job and project-oriented tasks. They’re essential for performing tasks efficiently and strategically, minimizing costs and delays while optimizing productivity.

Technical skills include:

  • Integration: Systems integration – designing, testing, implementing, and integrating a new system and its components – relies on engineering expertise and current knowledge of codes and processes. It’s an overarching skill that’s integral to most engineering organizations, and having a thorough understanding of it will aid in tasks like troubleshooting and process development.
  • Operations: You need to have the technical skills required to maintain operations, including staying up to date on programming languages, algorithms, frameworks, cloud services, tools, and methodologies. As a team member, you’ll use these technical skills every day, and as a leader, you’ll need a firm understanding of them to step in where needed and inform project decisions.
  • Research & Insights: Being research-oriented will keep processes and products relevant, streamlined, and profitable. You should be able to identify valuable research or data and use it to inform decisions, identify product niches, improve processes, better utilize clean energy and develop innovative solutions or products.
  • Troubleshooting: When something malfunctions – be it an application or machinery – you should be able to step in and troubleshoot, leveraging your experience and skills to identify and solve the problem. While some issues may be outside of your scope, many issues can be resolved through troubleshooting, minimizing downtime and making it a necessary skill to have.

Hybrid Skills

Hybrid skills blend technical knowledge with human knowledge and soft skills. They involve the management of both the project and the team to maintain successful and optimized operations and working conditions.

Examples of hybrid skills include:

  • Communication: Communication is a foundational skill that enables you to connect with virtually anyone. Honing your communication skills will improve your ability to convey the value and impact of a project to management, and it will enhance your interactions with the team when relaying information or offering guidance, improving your influence and leadership skills.
  • Problem-solving: The ability to solve problems effectively, reliably, and quickly optimizes operations by minimizing the impact on the project’s progress, budget, and achievements. You’ll be able to overcome an obstacle by assessing the situation, trying and eliminating possible solutions, accounting for potential impacts, and implementing the best response, whether it’s a system problem or team conflict.
  • Project management: Project management for engineers refers to planning, monitoring, managing, and unifying each aspect of a project to ensure success. A well-managed project aligns with your organization’s goals, stays on schedule, adheres to the budget, and provides valuable results. For engineers, project management requires organization, critical thinking, team management, collaboration, and extensive technical knowledge, as well as initiative and leadership.

Why Do Engineers Need Management Skills When Working in the Industry?

All aspects of your engineering career will benefit from acquiring these skills that managers should have. These skills can distinguish you as a standout engineer and prepare you to be an inspiring, capable leader. Skills like research, communication, and project management can create better working conditions for all while benefiting your organization with enhanced productivity, efficiency, and safety.

MEML@Rice features a rewarding curriculum that helps hone your technical and soft skills, with hands-on experience, instruction from world-class faculty and program specializations in computer or data science. Take the next step in advancing your engineering career by completing the form to connect with a Rice Enrollment Coach.

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