Engineers are technical thinkers. They use math and science skills to design and fix things. But the kind of technical mindset that helps engineers succeed doesn't always translate well to management positions that require leadership and interpersonal skills. If you have good technical skills and you connect well with people, you have a unique combination of qualities that could help you succeed as an engineering manager.
Engineers combine analysis and curiosity to understand how things work and what can be done to make them work better. Engineering jobs can include designing, testing, problem solving and developing everything from lawnmowers to satellites. Even roads and bridges need engineers to determine how they should be structured and what materials to use. Engineers can work in research and development centers, test labs, office buildings or in the field, depending on a given position and engineering discipline.
Engineering managers use the practical experience they've gained while working as engineers to lead teams of other engineers. Once at the management level, however, actual hands-on engineering work gives way to traditional business tasks such as hiring, coaching and mentoring personnel, managing budgets and collaborating with colleagues in sales, purchasing and other departments. While an engineering manager doesn't do design work, her technical background might be used to validate work performed by engineers in her team.
Both engineers and engineering managers are expected to hold, at a minimum, four-year degrees. Degree programs focus on specific fields of study, such as computers, electrical, electronics and mechanical engineering. Civil engineering degrees also include environmental and geotechnical studies, because these engineers design structures such as bridges that must work in sync with the natural environment -- even if that environment is prone to earthquakes or floods.
In addition to a bachelor's degree, engineering managers develop knowledge and skills in leadership and business. Many engineering managers pursue higher degrees in general business or specialized engineering or technical management programs. Studies include finance, human resource management, economics and quality management. Engineering managers often also take project management training classes, enabling them to support project delivery requirements.
Engineering Career Ladders
Many engineers prefer to continue to work in engineering rather than progressing into management, but they can still progress into higher roles. Engineering work is crucial to business sustainability because it brings new and better products to market. The intellectual capital engineers bring to companies represents highly valued assets. Engineers can progress up a different career ladder than managers, reaching to higher senior engineering positions that are at the same levels as management personnel.
- The Institute IEEE: From Engineer to Manager: Tips You Need to Know
- Engineering: Engineer, Manager, Which One?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: What Architectural and Engineering Managers Do
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Electrical and Electronics Engineers
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.