This information was sent to me by Anthony Venafro who serves as the Director of Engineering at Smith Engineering in Chantilly, Virginia. I was so impressed with the information; I asked Anthony if I could post it here on the Engineering Management Institute blog.
These are four core attributes that Anthony feels are critical to a successful engineering career:
#1 Responsiveness – This is the number one compliment I receive from clients and county staff, and it goes a long way. Being responsive is very easy to do, and people appreciate it. Simply returning a phone call or email to explain that you received their message and will look into their question and get back to them at a later date goes a long way. Time is money and if you exude to your clients, that you are aware of this fact, they’ll have more confidence in you. Do simple requests fast, even if it means dropping everything to do so. A client doesn’t want to wait a day or two for you to change a label or provide him or her with some quick information because you were too engulfed with a more substantial task. If it’s something quick and can be turned around in minutes, then do it immediately. They’ll love you forever if you give them the feeling that serving them is what is most important to you.
#2 Relationships – In the engineering industry, you can’t simply spend a lot of money on advertising or a flashy website and expect that you’re going to get more of the market share. Building relationships with other members of the industry is critical to a successful engineering career. This entails getting to know these men and women on a personal level; understanding their background, what they like to eat/drink, how many kids they have, etc. It is imperative to get beyond the façade of what you may see during a meeting or conference and get to know these people. This goes for county/jurisdictional workers as well. When you build relationships with people, conversations get easier, you tend to get more information out of them, you can bounce ideas/questions off them without feeling ashamed or embarrassed, and the list goes on. Breaking the mold of a stereotypical engineer on a social and communication level is what will very likely make someone the best engineer he or she can be.
#3 Realism – Once you’ve built strong relationships, you’ll likely open the door to being more realistic with your clients. Builders and developers hate bad news (who likes it?), especially when it comes to slipping deadlines or other issues that arise during a project, which may not even be your fault. As the lead consultant you will need to be able to step up to the plate and be the bearer of news that may result in delays. While these conversations won’t be the highlight of you day, they will inevitably occur, and being a realist when it comes to the effects of various issues is critical. Deciding to set lofty expectations may excite the client initially and lessen the immediate blow, but not being able to fulfill them will have a larger impact on how they view you and your firm long-term. You also have to be realistic to yourself; know your limitations, identify your weaknesses, and always look for opportunities to improve.
#4 Resilience– In this industry you will hear more negatives than positives. In Northern Virginia, jurisdictional reviews of site plans have to be some of the most critical in the nation and being resilient is critical! You’ll be faced with two simple decisions when you receive a stack of comments from the county on your “precious” plan. You can:
1) Get enraged with the reviewers; fire off a nasty email in haste (which you will definitely regret later), and ultimately let it ruin your day and your client’s day; OR
2) Stay positive. Negative comments are rarely as bad as they initially seem. I recommend reviewing the comments once, and then put them down until the next day, so you can review them again with a clear head. You’ll find that a few them are just completely bogus; a handful are very easy fixes; and one or two may actually take some deep thought to address and perhaps figuring out a compromise with the reviewer (which is where your good relationship with him or her will come into play).
Let your client be the one to flip out on the comments and you be the calm and collected one who presents a clear course of action on how these issues are going to get resolved. Exuding resilience builds good character and good character is what will separate you from the rest.
Clients need to know that they are in good hands. Building a good relationship with them outside of the conference room will put you in a position to be real with them when it counts. Be the hand that steadies the ship; and ultimately the person they can rely on most to get the job done. However, one can’t expect others to follow him or her if one is not confident in the direction he or she is heading. Or in other words, until somebody believes that he or she is a leader; he or she doesn’t have the capability to lead.
I hope you enjoyed these thoughts from Venafro, if you would like to share your advice on how to achieve success as an engineer, please do in the comments section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success