Ask Anthony: What All Engineering Managers Need But Few Seek

October 12, 2020

Through my work at the Engineering Management Institute, I am lucky to get to have conversations with engineering managers almost daily. They discuss with me their goals, challenges, trials and tribulations.

Over the past six months, during this time of remote work, these conversations have changed as new challenges have arisen, especially around engagement with team members and clients.

What has not changed in engineering management is the importance of seeking feedback from the people you work with. In my opinion, feedback is an invaluable component of personal improvement.

Let’s look at the definition of feedback: information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc., which is used as a basis for improvement.

Please notice the end of the definition, which is used as a basis for improvement. I can’t tell you how many managers I speak with who tell me repeatedly that they want to improve their management skills or their leadership abilities, yet when I ask them where exactly they need to improve, they have no idea.

And if they can answer that question, they usually answer based on their own judgment of themselves, which is never a good measuring stick. We’re typically too easy or too hard on ourselves, but rarely ever accurate, making it very hard to truly gauge where improvement needs to happen.

Not long ago, I was conducting a training for a small civil engineering firm on how to delegate effectively. At EMI we teach a very specific framework to help technical professionals do what is so hard for us – get out of the details and delegate! During the training, I recommended to the participants that, after a task they delegate is completed, they have a conversation with the person they delegated to and ask for feedback on the entire process. Seek feedback on your clarity in delegating the task. Ask your team if you gave them the information that they needed to be successful and if they were clear on the amount of time they had to complete the task.

Some of the managers did seek feedback, but one manager really took it to an extreme.  He collected all of the feedback from his team members, organized it and presented it to me and the other training participants. He found patterns and valuable ways that he could create lasting improvements in his management style, including the way he delegated, the tools he used, how often he checked in with his staff, his email correspondence and more. He stated that this experience had truly changed the way he planned to communicate with his staff going forward, and when I checked in with him a few months later, he told me that things had continued to improve the more feedback he received.

I challenge you as a manager in the world of civil engineering to seek feedback on a very regular basis. It can start with posing a simple question to your staff, like “How am I doing?” However, you can also create structure around it by creating a simple checklist that you can walk through with your team after a project is completed or at certain milestones.

Please seek feedback as a manager in the world of engineering, because few things can help you more on your path to becoming a leader whom people look up to. I’ll leave you with a quote on the topic:

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” – Mark Twain

Anthony Fasano, P.E., F.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.

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

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