Tips on How to Start a Fulfilling Career in Engineering Management

The possibility of landing an ever-elusive managerial role excites and inspires some, yet it worries and unnerves others.

In truth, making the leap from engineer to manager often takes a great deal of preparation and perseverance, no matter who the candidate might be.

If you have recently been thinking about making the transition to a management role yourself, you may already possess the ideal skillset without even realizing it.

Engineering management can be an immensely fulfilling role, one that can offer an individual room to thrive in an industry rife with opportunity. 

To make sure you hit the ground at pace and soar headlong towards success, you may want to check out these tips on how to make it happen without a hitch.

Education Can Lead to Opportunity

Preparing yourself for a management position often means taking the time to ensure you have the right qualifications and the know-how to make the right decisions when the time comes.

Many great leaders return to education in some capacity throughout their career, and they generally acknowledge the value of continued learning in a professional environment.

Admittedly, returning to education is not always easy, particularly for the busiest among you who might need to juggle both work and family life on an everyday basis.

Thankfully, turning to online opportunities can be a great way around this, as it can negate the locational and logistical difficulties involved with having to physically attend an institution.

Education may be able to bridge the gap between your engineering background and your ambitions to become a marvelous manager, especially since you can now strive to become a Master of Science Engineering Management Online.

Highly renowned institutions can ensure that none of the quality is lost simply as a result of the course being remote; in fact, they are often specifically designed to thrive in an online capacity.

Making Sure You Have the Right Experience

Experience can be an extremely valuable asset to your resume when the time finally comes to start applying for new jobs. Plus, aiming to sharpen a well-rounded skill set is probably for the best.

Seeking out experience opportunities can help you widen your horizons, open up your perspective and hopefully, meet some exciting new contacts to form lasting professional bonds with.

The more practical experience you can muster, the greater the chance you will be able to prove to others that you know what you are doing and that you are indeed the best manager for the job.

  • Extra Tip – If you do choose to study online, it is worth remembering that you can gain experience as you learn, as this is a good way to apply your new knowledge directly to a practical setting.

It is worth turning your attention to a field that you want to specify in, as the world of engineering is so incredibly complex, it can be difficult to know whether or not a managerial role will suit you until you spend first-hand time in any given area.

A Managerial Mindset

You may very well have a managerial mindset and the attitude of a great leader but have not yet found a chance to prove it.

Some of the traits that a great manager might possess include listening and growing alongside the team while respecting their roles and utilizing empathy to understand their thoughts and feelings. Emotional intelligence can often play a large part in the skillset of a great manager, so it should not be a skill worth overlooking by any means.

The ability to make high-pressure decisions in a short space of time is another defining indicator of what makes someone fit to be a reliable manager. This is a fairly difficult skill to master, but one that needs to be mastered through experience and a solid, fundamental knowledge of the industry.

Integrity is also essential. To follow your words and support those around you, avoiding deceit, and promoting transparency are all signs of not only a good manager but a decent person.

If you ever find yourself inadvertently mentoring someone who needs some help with a line of code, a schematic, or a general issue in whichever field of engineering you have found yourself in, this is a good sign.

In many ways, engineering managers need to provide the mentor role, as engineering can be so complex, supporting the next generation of technically gifted professionals is a must.

Interpersonal skills can help you out greatly in this area, and sometimes, simply making yourself open to conversation and questions is the best way forward.

Dealing with Your New Responsibilities

Although the transition from engineer to manager might seem like a straightforward transition, particularly if you have been working in engineering for a long time, it is worth thinking about some of the key differences in responsibility.

Being faced with a whole new set of responsibilities and finding yourself completely unprepared for the road ahead can be an uncomfortable affair, to say the least.

Some of the more important differences to note might include:

  • A new urgency on creating timelines to work along
  • The weight of having to organize a large team of individuals
  • Pitching ideas to investors
  • Taking on increased levels of accountability, i.e., the potential mistakes of others
  • Learning to put the company and the brand ahead of yourself

This is not necessarily a definitive list; it is a good set of guidelines, however, one that can help you to understand the kind of role you may be stepping into.

The learning curve can be so impossibly steep without the right preparation, so your aim should be to flatten out that curve on your climb to the top position.

There is little need to overthink it, as this can lead to some negative consequences. It is technically a totally new job, so it is fine to cut yourself a little bit of slack if you need it.

Finding the Right Company

Finding the right company for you is a must if you aim to flourish in the engineering world. There is so much to learn from some of the brightest minds working at the cutting-edge of innovation; it is just a matter of discovering them and capitalizing on an opening.

When selecting the perfect organization to turn your attention to, a few key elements worth checking out include:

  • Company Culture – Does the company pride itself on having a great atmosphere that its employees are happy to work in? This can be hard to decipher at first, but you can generally get a feel for the day-to-day after meeting a few people.
  • Room for Progression – Is there space for you to put your ideas across, to pursue new engineering endeavors, and to take your career to the next level as you and the company grow in unison?
  • Are You Familiar with Their Processes? – Making sure you are the right fit is crucial, so you may want to think about whether or not your hands-on experience is enough to work with their preferred processes, systems, and platforms.
  • Do You Enjoy Their Work? – Thanks to the nature of engineering work being tangible, you can see for yourself whether or not you actually enjoy their products and builds.
  • Values – It is often easier to work for a company whose values align with your own; in fact, this might even be an interview question, so making sure to do your research into what your prospective employers stand for is vital.

Adopting a Business-Oriented Approach

While engineering is a discipline heavily comprised of practical skills, science, math, and design, it is closely linked with the world of business.

Even if your skills in the workshop, the drawing-room, or the laboratory are unmatched, failing to take some time out to learn about business could hinder your chances at making the leap to engineering manager, or at least, provide you with a rocky start.

Many businesses often work closely with engineers to develop products, create new services and build software platforms on which to operate on.

Adopting a business-minded approach, through the lens of your practical experience as an engineer, can turn you into an exceptional candidate, one with a skillset to be admired.

This could give you the advantage over your competition while at the same time allowing you to shape the face of industries with exciting new ideas in tech.

A few of the business fundamentals worth getting clued up on include the ins and outs of marketing, supply chain management, how to create a business model, the importance of finance and corporate governance.

It is important to note, however, that pursuing further education in engineering will likely be able to offer you the opportunity to learn much more about how business is connected with engineering and how best to position your own skillset within it.

Strive to Make Connections and Develop Working Relationships

There is a big difference between joining a company as an engineering manager and working your way up to the title from a junior position.

If you plan to take the first option and find yourself a brand-new company to work for, a few crucial points to note include:

  • Fitting into a New Team is Hard – Bursting into the first day of the job and shaking up a well-established team of long-standing coworkers will likely not make you many friends. Getting to know your team first is a must, and you can do this by listening.
  • Familiarize Yourself with Company Protocol – Before you critique any processes too harshly, learning the ropes can help you establish yourself as a respected member of the company. Of course, your thoughts and criticisms are highly valuable, but there is a time and a place for everything.
  • Learn Names and Faces – This is simple enough, yet people often forget to do it. Learning the names and faces of your new coworker is a good way to immediately begin establishing connections.

Finding yourself a mentor can be largely beneficial in a myriad of ways. A mentor that has a vast amount of experience and knowledge to pass down to you should not be ignored; they should be listened to and respected.

Know Your Team and Their Individual Responsibilities

A highly functioning team requires the talents of some great individuals, all with their own strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, and personalities.

Getting to know your team on an individual level means understanding who they are as people.

If you know exactly what everyone is supposed to be doing, when they are supposed to be doing it, and which jobs rely on one another to succeed, you are probably well on the way to managing a coherent, effective group of individuals.

Can you think back to a time when a manager stood out to you as being fantastically good at their job, depressingly awful at it, or just in between? If the answer is yes, then you may want to write down a list of what made you think of them that way.

This can help you to avoid what you disliked and hopefully strive to implement what you enjoyed about their leadership style.

Asking your team for feedback is also a must, as they should have a say when it comes to the way they prefer to be managed.

Sometimes, simply offering them the space they need to talk freely is a superb way of building connections.

The Bigger Picture

Some of the very best technical teams are in it for the long haul. Products can take a huge amount of time to develop, and even when they do not, their lifecycle and the business management involved in the process can be a never-ending slog.

Taking a long-term view and embracing your new position within your company's vision can help you be a better engineering manager for the team that needs you.

Whichever direction you ultimately decide to take, engineering management can be a rewarding career to explore, one that thrives on a commitment to learning and innovation.