How do you motivate engineers so that they want to step up and take ownership of their work, instead of being content with just being along for the ride?

This was a question I received recently while serving as the lead instructor for the inaugural ASCE Power Skills series, a new series of live leadership training sessions being provided by ASCE for members nationwide. For information on the series and the session schedule, click here.

The bottom-line question here is: Can you inspire someone to be motivated?

I need to approach this question by picturing myself as an engineering manager (which I was at one time) and think about how I would handle an engineer on my team who was content to just be along for the ride. Here’s what I would do …

First, I would have an open and honest conversation with this person about their career path. I repeat, about their career path, not the success of the project or our company. I would ask them to tell me about their career goals and then drill down on each goal and ask some follow-up questions, like, “Why is this goal important to you?” For some helpful tips on having crucial conversations, check out this recent episode of The Civil Engineering Podcast.

Like any good engineer, I would gather all of the data I needed first before trying to solve the problem.

Once I have that information, I would ask the following question, but not require an immediate answer:

“How do you see your goals aligning with the goals or vision of the company and our project team?”

I would ask them to think on this question for a few days and then propose we get together again to discuss their thoughts.

Between the two meetings, I would review their goals and the purpose they shared behind each of them, and I would try to map their purpose or passion to their current project(s).

For example, if they have a desire to help people improve their lives, I would outline for them how their current roadway or development project will do just that. They may not see the benefits that their projects are transmitting to the end-users. They may only see a bunch of lines and shapes on a drawing at this point in their career.

When we convene for our second meeting, I would FIRST ask them to tell me about what they came up with in response to the question I asked. Their answer(s) may provide me with more or better information to again connect their purpose to their projects.

After listening to them, I would then engage them in conversation and outline the reasons I feel their current projects will allow them to achieve their personal mission.

The point of this article is to make it clear that every individual is different and there is no equation for solving people-related problems or challenges.

Instead, you need to try to get to the root of the problem. If one of your engineers isn’t excited at work, find out what excites him or her and tie their passion to their job responsibilities. If you can’t, then maybe that person needs some new and different responsibilities.

Standard equations are helpful on engineering projects, but not always applicable in engineering management.

Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the founder of the Engineering Management Institute (previously known as the Engineering Career Coach), which has helped thousands of engineers develop their business and leadership skills. He hosts the Civil Engineering Podcast and he is the author of 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 by clicking here.

He has also recently started the Engineering Management Accelerator to help engineers become more effective managers: www.EngineerToManager.com.

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