Because I spend most of my days coaching and training civil engineers, I attend a lot of conferences and interview a lot of people for The Civil Engineering Podcast.
In nine out of 10 episodes, when I ask what advice the guest would like to share with civil engineers, they say, “Civil engineers must be good communicators.”
Great, now all civil engineers know that, but in this post, I’d like to focus on why this is important and how one can actually improve their communication skills.
First of all, civil engineering is people-focused. If you Google “meaning of civil in civil engineering,” you’ll find this: Civil Engineering is named as it is because it is a part of Science [that] deals with the comfort accessories required by the civilians with respect to their basic needs of shelter, transportation, work place and other.
In addition to civil engineering being a people-focused profession, in order to complete successful civil engineering projects it takes many people working together. On any given project, civil engineers will work with other engineers, architects, planners, surveyors, geologists, sales and marketing professionals, the public and so on. Therefore, your ability to communicate with people in each of these areas will directly correlate to the success of your projects and therefore your success as a civil engineering professional.
Also, most civil engineers, over the course of their careers, manage teams of people, again with the goal of achieving successful projects. So the ability of a civil engineer to communicate will drive the success of his or her team, and ultimately their projects.
HOW to Improve Communication Skills as a Civil Engineer
Now that we are clear on why communication is important for civil engineers, how can one improve these skills?
The best way to improve any skill is to engage in that skill.
I know. So now you are asking, “How do I do that?”
Here are three actions you can take to practice and improve your communication skills:
1. Read books on the subject and practice the strategies you learn.
In the world of information overload, saying “read books” can be just as general as “become a good communicator.” So, I will recommend one specific book: “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. This should be required reading for every engineer, period.
2. Become active in professional associations like the American Society of Civil Engineers, which will force you to communicate on a regular basis with people in your industry.
They are the same technical professionals whom you will have to communicate with on your projects.
3. Join Toastmasters International or an organization like it and hone your public speaking skills.
The thing about public speaking is that if you do it, over time you will become more and more confident in yourself, which will make you an overall better communicator. More on this topic here.
4. Overcommunicate to ensure clarity.
In civil engineering, just one point that is mis-communicated on a project could result in catastrophic consequences. Take the time to ensure that when you are giving instructions or explaining expectations to people, you are clear and they have everything they need to meet your expectations. Breakdowns in communication usually stem from, “I didn’t realize that was what you wanted.” You never want someone to say that to you as manager.
5. Teach others how to communicate. Once you become confident in your own skills, teaching others how to build those skills is a great way to reinforce them in your own daily activities. Many of the greatest leaders are the greatest teachers.
My hope is that next time someone tells you, “To succeed as a civil engineer, you must be a good communicator,” this post will provide you with a starting point for doing so.
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.