I have received many questions recently through the different social media outlets to the effect of, “How do I go from design engineer to manager in my engineering career?”
It’s a great question and one that many engineers ask. In my career travels as a design engineer, and the last few years as an Engineering Management Institute, I have worked with, coached, and spoken to many engineers about this topic specifically and in this post I want to offer some engineering career advice based on my experiences.
In talking with many successful engineers that have made the transition from design engineer to manager, here are some guidelines that may be helpful in your transition:
Learn How to Delegate
What do I mean by learn how to delegate? Well I could have just said, start delegating, but many successful engineers will tell you that it’s not that easy. As engineers we get so wrapped up in day to day technical aspects of projects that when it’s time to go take on a managerial role, we either don’t want to give up the technical tasks to someone else or we are so involved in our projects, it is hard to take a more “hands-off” role.
Many engineers have the mentality of, “I want to do it to ensure it gets done correctly. That’s understandable being that you are a competent project manager, however to make a transition from engineer to manager, you are going to have to let other people help you. You are going to have to take the time to teach them how to do it, in order to free up your time for other things. The best way to do this is to start by giving small tasks to your team members to let them gain your trust. Once they build up your trust, you will feel more comfortable giving them larger tasks until you can remove yourself from the “trenches” and take on more of a managerial role.
Learn How to Talk to People in a Positive Way
I always tell engineers that the way you say something to people is more important than what you say. As an engineering manager you will have to delegate to your team members and have regular conversations with them about what tasks you would like them to accomplish.
Many engineering managers think only about the success of their project and not the success of their people. When you delegate tasks to your team members, explain to them why you want them to do something, how it’s going to help the project and also how it is going to help their engineering career development. I have coached so many engineers that don’t understand why they are not getting the most out of their staff and when I review their e-mails to discuss their conversations, it’s easy to see that their tone and choice of words is anything but inspiring.
No one has time to read a book these days, but to help improve your people skills I recommend listening to the audio version of Dale Carnegie’s bestselling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Become a Great Presenter
One of the biggest misnomers amongst recent engineering graduates and younger engineers is that you don’t have to be good at writing or presenting. That is 150% false! In fact, successful engineers are typically very good writers and/or presenters.
To make a successful transition from engineer to manager, you must be able to present your ideas clearly to a group of people whether it is a group of 2 or 200. You may have to present at a Town Board meeting in seeking project approvals, make a sales call to a prospective client, or speak in front of one of the local professional engineering societies. In all of these cases, your ability to present will have a profound impact on your success as an engineering manager.
The good news is that public speaking is not a talent that you are born with or without; it’s a skill that can be learned. I urge you to develop this skill as early on in your engineering career as possible. To improve your speaking skills, I recommend joining a local Toastmaster chapter and listening to the audio version of the book entitled Speak to Win by Brian Tracy.
So in response to the question of how to become an engineering manager, I would say: learn how to delegate to others, learn how to talk to people in a positive way always thinking about their success, and last but not least become a great presenter! Please share any advice that you have found to be helpful in your transition from engineer to manager.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success