The Responsibilities Of An Engineering Manager
Engineering management is a specialist field within management that is concerned with the stewardship of engineering teams and projects. Engineering managers must have some specialist knowledge in the field of engineering that they are overseeing. They operate as project controllers and problem solvers during often extremely complicated engineering
This article runs through some of the responsibilities of an engineering manager as well as the qualifications that are needed to begin work in the field.
What Qualifications Are Needed?
Engineering managers need to be highly qualified, highly experienced, or both. They are expected to have a few years of experience in a specialist field such as biomechanics, civil engineering, or aerospace engineering. It is the experience in a specialist field that will prepare an engineer to take on a more management-oriented role. As experienced engineers, they will have already have a qualification in the vein of a Bachelor’s degree in physics, chemistry, or a specialist engineering field. In order to take on an engineering management role, they will need to have a postgraduate degree that is highly relevant to their eventual role.
The kinds of postgraduate degrees that can lead to work in engineering management tend to be either business, science, or specialist engineering management courses. Some Master of Business Administration graduates may be able to apply for engineering management roles, but only if they also have relevant engineering project management experience. A Master of Technology Management degree is more useful for the prospective engineering manager. These courses are few and far between but can be hunted down. The most useful qualification is the Master of Engineering Management degree. This is offered by universities around the world and is a good way for experienced engineers to hone their managerial craft
while not straying from their chosen field. The best universities offering Master of Technology Management degrees keep up to date with the latest technological advancements in the field. These involve new material process automation techniques and new machine learning-driven data analysis. Applicants typically need two years of engineering experience and a Batchelor’s degree in order to qualify for a Master of Engineering Management postgraduate degree in the United States or Canada.
Ultimately, engineering managers need to have both experience and a postgraduate degree in order to have a reasonable chance of breaking into the field. With that in mind, take a look at some of the responsibilities shouldered by engineering managers working today.
Research And Development Management
Research and development is one of the most important elements of modern product design. Engineering management involves the careful planning and execution of a research and development program. Although R&D might seem like an impossibly broad task, it is scalable. Part of the training engineers receive during their postgraduate courses is geared
towards creating methods for scaling research and development effectively.
Research and development should be carried out with the wider strategic aims of the parent organization in mind. Objectives should be set with an eye to probable returns for the money invested into research. It should be completed with a good amount of market research data available.
Perhaps the most significant – and abstracted – task in the engineering research and development process is the creation of Realistic Performance Indicators. These indicators are factors that are tangible and can be measured: allowing a project research and development manager to effectively figure out how well something is going and make changes where necessary.
Engineering research and development can sometimes result in the curbing of activities: something that can have a negative impact on the morale and wellbeing of the engineering team under the wing of a manager. In cases where work is being cut, an engineering manager should try and make the best use of staff that has been left without specific project roles. Ultimately, the quality of research and development within a project will have an impact on the ease with which an engineering manager can complete tasks further down the land.
Testing Protocol Development
Engineering managers play a big role in the development of testing protocols. These protocols are used to create data that indicates whether Realistic Performance Indicators are being sufficiently met. Testing protocols need to be developed that take into account the number of variables that may be possible. All members of an engineering team need to be fully briefed as to the testing protocols that will be used, and all members must be aware of the kinds of data that they need to effectively collect.
In a similar fashion, engineering managers have a responsibility to oversee the quality control processes involved in an engineering project. Whether a project is aiming at creating a medical prosthetic or a skyscraper – quality control is of the utmost importance.
Engineering managers need to instill a respect for quality in their project. Not only that, but they have to check the mathematical workings of their staff themselves. They also need to develop protocols for quality control – often with the help of sensors and machine learning algorithms.
Budget Setting And Negotiation
Engineering managers oversee the creation, setting, and negotiation of a budget for an engineering project. This is complex work. Projects need to be as efficient as possible in order to ensure the greatest return for a parent organization. They also need to have enough money put into them to ensure good quality and fair pay. Budget setting is a balancing act that involves negotiation with a series of stakeholders. Strategic planners within an organization usually plan for high returns and high quality but fail to take into account the sheer number of variables involved in an engineering project. Engineering staff are used to dealing with unexpected variable problems but cannot be expected to think strategically. Engineering managers have to act as middlemen in this mess of good intentions.
Liaison Between Departments
Engineering departments have a tendency to be a little insular when it comes to interdepartmental communications. This kind of communication is essential when it comes to running a project efficiently and in line with the strategic aims of the organization. Engineering managers tend to act as liaison officers: making sure that everybody is kept in the loop. Modern project management software makes this aspect of engineering management work far easier than it was before. This software centralizes all of the communication and reporting channels used by departments and allows for easy assessment of structural difficulties.
Managing A Team
Engineering management might involve a great deal of technical acumen and specialist skills, but that does not mean that traditional interpersonal management and motivation are null skills in the field. At the end of the day, engineering management is about creating the right circumstances for a project to be completed on time, on budget, and in accordance with the wide strategic aims of the parent company or organization. Managing a team effectively can help all of these aims be met.
Engineering managers need to take the time to get to know their team. Understanding the specialist skills held by each team member and the unique social dimension of the workplace will help them manage an engineering team effectively. They also need to know their team members on a personal level. Harvard professor Amy Edmonson coined the term
‘psychological safety’. The level of psychological safety felt by team members impacts their ability to work effectively. Truly knowing a team can increase their sense of psychological safety, according to Edmonson’s work. Edmonson argues that fields like engineering are part of the ‘knowledge economy’. Workers in the knowledge economy benefit the most from a sense of psychological safety incubated by good managers.
Engineering managers need to act as motivators and problem-solvers for each team member if they want to keep things moving in the right direction. They work in collaboration with both the engineers under their wing and their overseeing executives and can often mediate between these two groups.
Engineering managers are bought into organizations primarily for their ability to complete projects. Engineering projects can be incredibly complicated – involving thousands of workers, dozens of engineers, countless stakeholders, and ambitious aims. There can also be political ramifications of strategic engineering choices. The building of a hydroelectric dam, for instance, can trigger water shortages. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam – which is being built across the Nile – has caused huge controversy due to the likelihood that it may be designed in a way that prevents water flow from entering Egypt. The management of a project on a macro scale involves the negotiation of political difficulties in many cases. No building or infrastructural development is excluded from the political sphere.
Aside from grand questions of politics and representation that engineering managers have to sometimes deal with, the nitty-gritty of their project management role involves the maintenance of an effective working force that communicates well. Advances in software technology have made project management in engineering far more simple. Modern project
management software centralizes all of the diaries, communications, and reports from all workers and stakeholders – allowing a project manager to monitor and report on a project without jumping in-between applications.
Conflict management is an important part of any management role – including engineering management. Engineering teams are composed of individuals. Often, these individuals will have differences of opinion, and conflict will arise. Predicting where areas of conflict may be and dealing with potential issues before they arrive is essential.
Conflict management and resolution is not always easy. Engineering managers can keep the following guidelines in mind when looking to minimize conflict in their place of work:
Create A Safe Space To Talk
Conflicts only get worse when one or more of the parties feels that they cannot speak out. As a mediator, an engineering manager needs to be able to assure parties that there is no ramifications for considered expression of grievances. They must find a mutual purpose and know that there is a degree of mutual respect between all parties involved in a conflict.
Listen Actively To Grievances
Engineering managers need to take grievances within their teams extremely seriously. Any small grievance could end up derailing an entire project. In order for problems to be solved, they must first be shared. Managers need to actively listen to issues raised by employees with their minds firmly on conflict resolution and empathetic support.
People involved in conflict often want to assign blame as a way of adding some kind of closure to an issue. In reality, blaming an individual within a team rarely helps resolve anything. Engineering managers need to minimize the importance of blame to conflict stakeholders and instead maximize the importance of structural resolutions. What changes can be made to a structure to allow people the freedom to discuss issues?
Engineering projects involve a vast quantity of incredibly specific skill acquisition. Engineers working on a project need to be able to complete their assigned tasks to the highest degree of quality. Training is completely necessary. Training is not only useful for the development of specific skills: it is necessary during the course of every engineering project in order to
reinforce the strategic vision of the project’s stakeholders.
Engineering managers need to provide consistent training to the engineering professionals working underneath them in part to enable the progress of talented engineers within their field. The best engineers will be retained within an organization for longer if they are offered adequately regular and useful training. Research at top business schools has revealed that there is a truly stark correlation between employee retention and increased employee training. The correct training practices can help employees to make positive decisions about their future within an organization as well as improve how they perform in their jobs.
Overall it is clear that training helps organizations achieve engineering goals in both the short and long term. Engineering managers are responsible for the planning and provision of specialist training. They may seek educational resources from outside of their organization if there are no specialists operating within it. For this, extra money must be sought.