How to teach engineers management and leadership skills

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There is no doubting the fact that engineers are some of the most hard-working professionals in any industry. They take their jobs seriously and are passionate and committed to delivering exemplary work performance all the time. Unfortunately, this single-minded passion in getting things done perfectly can make them less than ideal supervisors and managers. The majority of professional engineers lack people management skills – a key element in running an effective team. Fortunately, their brilliant minds also make it easy for them to grasps theories about team management and leadership. If you’re planning on moving one of your engineers into your stable of managers, you might want to help them develop the necessary skills required to step into a leadership role.

1. Instill the importance of having a “people-help-people” attitude

It is not surprising for engineers to work well on their own but if you’re planning on letting them lead a team, you have to ensure they understand the importance of possessing a ‘people-help-people’ attitude.

Start by scheduling a regular one-on-one meeting with your potential protégé. This is so you can talk to them about their performance while preparing them for doing the same with their future team members. Make sure to plan the meeting during less hectic hours so you get their undivided attention and hammer the point you’re trying to make properly.

2. Work on building confidence

Trust is a huge confidence booster and it’s important that you’re able to communicate this to your potential manager. Nothing can be more detrimental to an employee’s morale than making them think you distrust their judgment. Do not be stringy with praises and put a reign on finger-pointing and people-blaming when something does not go according to plan. Allow your people to make their own decision and support them, whatever the outcome is. This will not only increase their confidence but will let them know that you are genuinely supportive of the decisions they make.

3. Treat people accordingly

The Golden Rule, “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated” is appropriate for many purely social aspects of life, but not always appropriate for work – more so if you’re dealing with professional engineers.

Most engineers would prefer to be given general instructions and take it from there, but there are others who want specific tasks and instructions. In order for you to develop them into a good leader, you should be able to let them understand that each individual needs to be treated accordingly.

In addition to working differently, we all prefer different types of recognition. Money is not the only method of recognition you can use to reward your staff. Some people are perfectly content with personal “thank yous” while others prefer public recognition. Remember that whatever motivates you will not necessarily motivate every member of your staff. Showing your potential manager how you do things will most likely help them develop a leadership style that puts a premium on dealing with people appropriately.

4. Emphasize results, not time

Many organizations reward people based on the amount of time they spend at a job, not the results they achieve. While this is acceptable, you have to remember that hours spent on the job may not correlate with productivity. If you really want to improve an organization’s productivity and efficiency and at the same time teach your next-in-line this important lesson, you should start by putting more value on the amount of work done rather than the amount of time spent working.

5. Admit your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes and nobody is perfect but it can be a bit embarrassing to admit that you’ve made an error in judgment. In addition to the embarrassment, there’s also the misconception that you will lose the respect of your group or peers when you admit to making an error.

There is nothing wrong with admitting your mistake and owning up to the error, in fact, this is the perfect opportunity for you to train your future manager the importance of accepting mistakes and facing its consequence. Once they too start leading their own team, it will not be hard for them to do the same and in turn gain the respect of their subordinates.

6. Commit to projects only after the team agrees to it

Considering the work before committing to it, is one case where managing “up” is a byproduct of respecting your staff. In addition, considering your staff’s input may bring you respect and loyalty.

Doing so will help pass down this important work ethic to your next-in-line and will allow them to practice the same level of respect to the people who will be working under them in the future.

7. Schedule regular training sessions

Engineering is a challenging and constantly changing discipline so it’s important that you set aside a time to train your people with whatever new developments are in the industry. Schedule a planned training time in the regular workweek where you can cascade new ideas & information and actually talk about how this can affect their jobs and the business. Remember, if you don’t train your people on an ongoing basis, you will both lose.

If you take the time to properly equip your employee with these management and leadership tips, you won’t have any problem moving people up to assume leadership roles, whether they’re an engineer or something else. You will be doing a lot of good to both your potential manager and the people they will be handling in the near future.


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