4 Opportunities to Grow Your Leadership Skills is a blog post by guest author
Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA, ASEP
Leadership skills are crucial for engineers looking to take on more responsibility, and move into management. If you’ve ever read this blog, or anything I’ve written on leadership in the past, you’ll already know that.
What you might not know is how to develop your leadership skills. This is a constant struggle for engineers looking to break into leadership roles – how can you grow to become a leader if nobody gives you the chance to develop those skills in the first place? How you can get leadership experience if all leadership roles require previous leadership experience?
Today, I’m going to share five ways that you can grow your leadership skills, regardless of whether you already have a formal leadership role at work or not. Pursuing just one of these ideas over the next year can do amazing things for you personally and your ability to lead others.
Leading within your organization
It’s important to recognize that leadership is a set of behaviors, not a formal role. In other words, you can act like a leader without being assigned a role that requires leadership. This is great news, because it means anyone within an organization can take on leadership roles when the opportunity arises.
For example, you can look for:
- New projects,
- New initiatives,
- Old problems with no solutions, and
- Internal clubs and organizations.
For example, as a co-op student at a small circuit board manufacturer, I once asked the president if I could get involved in a new initiative the company was pursuing to design LED streetlights. He agreed, and I later came to find out that I was the sole engineer on the project, which made me the de facto technical leader on the project. This was a great experience and put me in a position to be able to grow my leadership skills early on in my career.
Leading within your community
Another way to find opportunities to hone your skills as a leader is to look outside your workplace, especially at volunteer opportunities. Luckily, your skills can be developed whether or not you get paid for it. You could consider looking for opportunities in:
- Volunteer groups
- Your local professional engineering oassociations
- Your local Engineers Without Borders (EWB) chapter
Some of my most valuable development has come from my time sitting on the board of directors of a small not-for-profit. While the role was completely voluntary, it has provided ample opportunity to lead others, confront significant challenges, and set a vision for change. Finding opportunities near you to take on similar challenges may be as straightforward as asking around in the organizations you’re already a part of.
Get an education
Another way to grow your skills as a leader is to seek more formal education. While learning about leadership in a classroom is no substitute for practicing it in an organization, it can serve to lay a foundation. Just like engineering school, understanding the theory is an important first step toward putting it into practice.
You can pursue many different forms of leadership education. For example, you can look for:
I recommend looking through the courses offered through Coursera.org. There are numerous, practical, low-cost courses offered on leadership that you can chose from. Just dive in!
Another interesting way to develop your skills as a leader is to start something of your own. When you launch a new initiative, club, or organization, you become the de facto leader, and others will look to you for that leadership.
Some ideas for things you can start includes:
- Training/ lunch and learns
- A club or society
- Writing or blogging
In my case, I once organized a series of lunch and learns to help others learn about systems engineering. The material was all being provided and delivered by a professional association – all I did was organize a conference room and a projector. All the same, taking the initiative to launch something lead to my being recognized as a local leader for all things related to systems engineering, even though I was still learning about it at the time myself.
Getting into a leadership role can look a lot like an impossible task – how can you get into leadership if you need experience before anyone will give the you chance? Luckily, you have options, and there’s opportunity everywhere if you just know where to look for it. With the suggestions I’ve made here, all you have to do is chose the next right step and get started.
About Patrick Sweet
Patrick Sweet, P.Eng., MBA, ASEP is an expert in systems engineering and engineering management, and the creator of EngineeringAndLeadership.com. He helps engineers and engineering teams do better work. You can reach Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or @engileader.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on any questions you might have on growing your leadership skills.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success