I get this question often from civil engineers who understand that in order to progress in their careers, they’ll need to take on more client communication, but are not sure how to prepare for doing so.
In this article, I’d like to share a few actions you can take to either prepare for communicating with clients, or start doing so today.
1. Ask your supervisor if you can be involved in client meetings as often as possible.
Sometimes, the simple way to get what you desire is to ask. I did this early on in my civil engineering career. I asked my boss if I could be involved in as many client meetings as possible, so I could develop my communication and relationship-building skills with clients.
My supervisor routinely invited me to participate, and because of that, I was handling meetings on my own earlier in my career than I would have if I hadn’t asked.
2. Attend and participate in networking events where your existing and prospective clients gather.
This will put you in a roomful of people who would constitute “clients” and you can talk with them in a relatively relaxed atmosphere. Ask them questions about themselves and their companies. This will allow you to gather information that you need to conduct interesting conversations, and who knows, you might even find a few new clients for your firm.
3. Volunteer to attend to serve as the main client correspondent on projects.
In many cases, one project team member communicates and coordinates with the client on each project. Volunteer to be that person as often as possible, or simply ask to be the person who calls or emails the client when there is a need.
This sounds easy and obvious, but oftentimes civil engineering managers will maintain a stranglehold on all client correspondence unless someone asks if they themselves can do it. Engineers struggle with delegation; sometimes, the only thing holding you back from gaining new responsibilities is that you haven’t asked.
4. Relentlessly work on your communication skills throughout your career.
Even if you don’t have the chance at this time to actually correspond with clients, improving your communication skills will prepare you for when you get that chance. How can you work on your skills? There are many great books you can read (here’s one on conversations), or you can listen to podcasts (here are the two engineering podcasts I host) related to improving your interpersonal skills.
However, regardless of how much information you take in on the topic, there is one thing you need to know about improving any skillset: you must practice what you learn. At the Engineering Management Institute, we’ve surveyed hundreds of engineers to determine their learning preferences, and it’s clear that experiential learning provides the best avenue to building managerial skills, including communication.
5. Don’t give up on asking and volunteering for client interaction.
The best civil engineering manager I ever had would say to me at least once a week, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” He said it to remind me of how important it was to ask to be involved.
Please consider implementing these actions if you’re interested in more client interaction.
What step will you take today?
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.
Anthony has also recently started the Engineering Management Accelerator to help engineers become more effective managers: www.EngineerToManager.com.