This is a guest blog post by Carol Evenson
Effectively managing any group of employees can be a difficult proposition, but providing leadership for an engineering team or department typically entails a number of unique challenges. Simply managing the efforts of an engineering staff may not always be sufficient. Managers who are able to provide clear direction, ensure that their group is able to function as a cohesive team, and avoid the most common and costly missteps and oversights are far more likely to make the leap from simply managing their staff to leading their engineering team to greater success.
The Importance of Effective Communication
Clear communication is of paramount importance to ensure that multiple engineering or other technical professionals are able to combine their efforts to greater effect. The technical aspects of engineering work can become a real issue, especially when it comes to being able to effectively communicate with personnel and associates from other departments. Finding ways to facilitate communication between an engineering team and other departments and addressing or eliminating any obstacles or barriers that poor communication may be creating is often the first step in providing a group, team or department with effective leadership.
It’s also important that you communicate clearly with your team. Be able to understand exactly what they want, even if they can’t always express it clearly. Recognize what the root issue is, and be willing to act on it. Also, learn how best to work with them in order to ensure that you are getting the work from them you need while making sure they are satisfied with their compensation. Consider engaging in a persuasion training program to learn how best to negotiate with them if necessary.
Creating and Maintaining a Productive Environment
Novice managers and inexperienced leaders often overlook the importance of maintaining a productive environment. The majority of engineering work typically involves identifying problems, manufacturing solutions and overcoming obstacles, and ensuring that employees are able to stay focused on the big picture and engaged with their work can often make a critical difference. The relatively low number of employees who may feel engaged by their work and enthusiastic about their contributions is never a problem that should be ignored to taken lightly.
Avoid Micromanaging—It May Create More Problems Than it Solves
While providing employees with direction is a critical aspect of effective management, being too active or aggressive when instructing employees can often be counterproductive. Micromanaging can be especially problematic when it comes to engineering projects where managers may not be familiar with the technical aspects of the workflow process. Effective ways for leaders to direct their staff without getting in their way commonly include the following:
- Recognizing employees who show initiative
- Ensuring good communication practices throughout a team or department
- Delegating tasks
- Spending effort to reduce the volume of instruction provided to employees to ensure all instructions given will be clear and concise
Dealing With Distractions
Scope creep and frequent distractions are common problems when it comes to technical tasks and busy working environments. While recognizing and addressing potential distractions that may disrupt a project often seems like a straightforward proposition, efforts that may seem secondary to the main goal are often able to produce creative alternatives lateral solutions for major problems.
While failing to keep employees on-task can quickly impede productivity and efficiency, enforcing a degree of focus that is too strict can be seen as another form of micromanagement. Striking the right balance between minimizing distractions and providing an engineering staff with the autonomy needed to achieve their full potential may require a little trial and error, but the results are often well worth the time and effort involved.
Understanding the Difference Between an Engineering Manager and a Leader
Novice leaders and professionals who have experience managing other types of employees but who have never worked with engineers directly would be wise to understand the difference between simply managing their staff and providing their employees with effective leadership. Influencing, motivating, and actualizing employees is often far more important than attempting to control the efforts of a team or department to accomplish specific goals.
Managers who spend their efforts attempting to improve the quality of communication, maintain a more productive atmosphere, minimize distraction, and avoid micromanaging their employees are far more likely to inspire their staff to greater heights.
About the Author Carol Evenson:
Carol Evenson is a process automation consultant who specializes in systems management. She has worked alongside Fortune 1000 companies and currently assists organizations within the US and UK.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share on how to go from managing to leading a team of engineers.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success