Engineering is regarded as a technical discipline, but management and people skills are also necessary when directing a team of engineers. Even if a project staff is composed of outstanding professionals, effective management is necessary for success. This is especially true for large construction projects, which involve multiple teams from several technical backgrounds. Often these teams include contractors, who need to be managed in different ways than a permanent team.
The following are some habits that characterize the most successful engineering managers.
An engineering manager who is good at planning can give a significant efficiency boost to building projects. Effective planning reveals which task are critical and which are less time-sensitive, and the project can be kept on track by focusing attention where it is needed. Many project delays can be attributed to a poor allocation of priorities – a secondary task may be given too much attention upfront, drawing resources away from critical activities.
With effective planning, engineering managers can also get a clear snapshot of how resources are allocated at every stage of the design and construction process. This way, there can be an equal distribution of responsibilities among the members of an engineering team. Without a clear project plan, some team members can be overloaded while others are underutilized.
Great Communication Skills
Good planning provides a clear direction for engineering projects, but only if every team member knows exactly what must be done. Therefore, a successful project manager must also communicate clearly. Even with a well-defined project scope and a detailed project plan, progress can be held back by contradicting or ambiguous instructions.
In addition to being clear, project communication must follow established channels. For every type of project document or report, it is important to clarify who is responsible for completing it and to whom it must be addressed.
Since engineering design and construction projects follow a logical sequence, some team members may not get involved until later in the process. To address this, successful construction managers hold a kickoff meeting with all teams involved. This way, staff members who don’t participate in early stages of the project can provide their input, avoiding unforeseen issues later on.
Making Meetings Productive
Meetings can be double-edged in construction administration. When meetings are properly scheduled and effective, they improve productivity and keep the project on track. On the other hand, meetings that are long and unproductive can hinder engineering teams, especially if they are frequent and unplanned.
Consider that a meeting involves stopping work, and tasks that require high concentration may be suspended. Successful engineering managers use meetings when they contribute to the project, but not for minor issues that can be solved with a phone call or email.
Using Emotional Intelligence
Successful engineering managers keep their emotions in check, without letting them get in the way of project success. This does not mean that managers should become cold and distant, but rather that they must use emotions effectively. To manage a team successfully, disagreements should not be taken personally, but instead they must be viewed as opportunities for improvement and synergy.
Emotional intelligence is not only about managing personal emotions, but also those of other team members.
► Normally, when an engineering team is led by a manager with a high emotional intelligence, a pleasant and productive working environment is created.
► On the other hand, the work environment can quickly become hostile and unproductive when emotional intelligence is lacking.
Giving Credit for Success
Engineering projects are team efforts, due to their sheer scale and the wide number of technical disciplines involved. A successful engineering manager is aware of this, recognizing that project success would not be possible individually. Team members can stay motivated when they are aware that contributions are recognized.
A similar principle applies when taking responsibility: effective engineering managers hold other team members accountable when they have delegated responsibilities, but they do not blame others for their own mistakes.
While technical skills are a basic requirement in engineering projects, managers must be aware that every staff member is an individual with a unique personality. Successful engineering managers create an effective project plan, and they clearly communicate all tasks and responsibilities. They keep projects on track with a high team productivity, but at the same time they strive for a pleasant work environment. Also, meetings are used as a tool to guide the project, without hindering the engineering staff.
Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Chicago Engineers. He is a graduate of Georgia Tech class of 2004, with a Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering with honors. His innovative approach to MEP engineering comes from graduating GE’s Engineering Leadership Program, where he designed wind turbines and biofuel power plant engines. Michael’s passion within design is energy efficiency and green technology.