Ask Anthony: What Does It Mean to Be a Manager as a Civil Engineer?

September 1, 2016
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I recently received a question from a young civil engineer who was considering management as the next step in his career progression, but said he wasn’t sure what being a manager entails besides showing strong leadership. He also asked if he should have knowledge of finance, business, and marketing. Were there any good books I’d recommend that provided insight into taking on a managerial role?

First off, while I agree that great managers tend to be strong leaders, it doesn’t always have to be that way. You can be put in charge of managing a project or a group of people and do so effectively without being a powerful leader.

But leadership is a topic for another post.

Fasano sidebarLet’s focus on the specific question: Do you need to have knowledge of finance, business, and marketing?

My recommendation is that if you want to become a great manager as a civil engineer, then yes, you should have some knowledge of finance, business, and marketing. You don’t have to be an expert in these fields, but if you are managing large projects or groups, these subjects are extremely important. Let’s look at each one individually:

Finance

Understanding finance as it pertains to civil engineering projects will definitely give you an advantage as a project manager, because there are many civil engineers who aren’t financially savvy. Now, this doesn’t mean you must have an MBA in finance (although that may be a good choice for you), but you should make an effort to improve your financial knowledge.

I would recommend that you read up on engineering economics and any other topics related to your type of projects. For example, if you are a municipal engineer, understand how municipalities fund their capital improvement projects.

Secondly, find a civil engineering manager who is more experienced than you and ask him or her if he or she can teach you about finance in your field.

Business

Business is obviously a very general term, but in this scenario let’s again think about business as it pertains to civil engineering. The business side of civil engineering might include business development, proposal preparation, managing project budgets, staffing projections, client meetings, client presentations, etc. These are all topics that could be lumped into “business.”

My advice is to brainstorm and identify the business topics that pertain to your specific job, and set out to learn about them. For example, if you know you’re going to be giving presentations as a manager at your civil engineering firm, then you should start to improve your public-speaking skills. If you try to just learn about “business,” you will most likely be overwhelmed. Determine and focus on a few business topics that will help you succeed.

Marketing

Marketing is another very general term; however, as a civil engineering manager, marketing will probably apply mostly to the idea of the image you project for your firm and how that might dictate future new business.

As far as marketing goes, I recommend that you focus first on delivering the highest quality of work to your clients, which in my opinion is your best form of marketing. Period. Once you have that side of marketing down, you can dive more into marketing your skills, products, and services.

Good reads

As far as books that I might recommend with regard to management. Again, this would really depend on your specific discipline and position, but here are a few of my favorites.

• The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less, by Richard Koch – This book will help you to focus on the important items as a civil engineering manager.

• The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, by Michael Gerber – I realize this book appears to be more focused toward businesses owners, but the truth is that it is a wonderful book that provides great advice for managing a business, department, or project.

I hope this post helps you to become the best civil engineering manager you can be. Please share any additional thoughts or questions.

Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Career Coach website which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and has written a bestselling book for engineers, Engineer Your Own Success. You can download a free video series on his website that will give you the tools needed to immediately improve your networking and communication skills.

3 Comments
  • Thank you for this answers,they have enlightened me.

  • Thank You.

  • John M. Lowe, Jr., P.E., LMASCE

    All good areas to know about. One more would be found in my book entitled “Managing Engineering and Architectural Design Services Contracts – What Every Project Manager Needs to Know.” If you would like to receive a complimentary copy of the book, please provide a street address to which it should be sent.

    Best regards,

    John M. Lowe, Jr., P.E., LMASCE

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