This is a guest post by Shoots Veis, P.E.
The boss and I were talking the other day about hiring a young engineer. The person we were considering checked a lot of the boxes we were looking for and they had a decent interview. There was no doubt they would meet all the requirements we had in the engineering skills job description. During the first 90% of the conversation, I would bet they were going to get the job. Then came this question:
“Do you think if they had to present in front of a city council I could trust them to go to the meeting without me?”
Unfortunately, the answer to that question was “No.”
That ended any chance the engineer had of getting that job.
I don’t know where they landed and I suspect they were able to get a job. However, it was evident throughout their interview that public speaking was never going to be their strong point. At least, not if they didn’t make an effort to improve their public speaking.
Most engineers need to be trusted to be able to stand up in front of an audience and communicate with that audience. Those engineers that do it well will catch the attention of clients, the public, and the boss because communication skills are highly valued in an engineer.
PSMJ Resources polled a number of public works departments about the engineers that work for them. They asked them to list the most important skills needed to do a good job. Here is the list they came up with:
- Follows through on commitments
- Good listener
- Nails every aspect of the job
- Leads by example
- Good communicator
- Backs decisions of team members
- Handles multiple priorities well
- Technically proficient
- Holds people accountable
- Delegates well
A review of the list shows how crucial communication skills are to engineering career development. People working with engineers believe skills two and six – listening and communicating – are higher on the priority list when hiring a project manager than technical proficiency, listed at ten.
An engineer who wants to do a good job for their clients, needs to practice communication skills as much, if not more, than engineering skills. Soft skills ability – communication, project management, working with people – should exceed engineering skills if you are going to stand out as an engineer.
The communication skills rated in the survey are helpful to become an accomplished public speaker. A good listener will be able to determine what an audience needs to learn from a presentation and incorporate that information into their speech. Effective speakers will take that material and communicate it well to the audience, in a manner that promotes understanding. Engineers that communicate well are a sought after commodity and the ability of a project manager to communicate with their clients is more valuable than their technical proficiency.
A good engineer needs to be technically proficient, but the people working with them appreciate (and hire) engineers that communicate well. If you are wondering if it is worth your time to practice your public speaking skills, the survey should reassure you the investment in improving your talents is worth it.
About Shoots Veis:
Shoots Veis, P.E. is the author of Public Speaking for Engineers: Communicating Effectively with Clients, the Public, and Local Government. He is a Senior Project Manager focusing on municipal engineering assignments involving water and wastewater systems, land development, permitting, and project management. He served for five years as an elected member of the Billings, MT city council.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success