This look at the management/leadership career track builds on last week’s post. Frequent contributor Rachel Cantor Fogarty explores the traits of successful managers and identifies ways that engineers can prepare themselves for future roles.
(R. Cantor Fogarty, February 22, 2014) I often get asked by YPs how do I become a manager/leader in the engineering field? In an attempt to answer this question to all the aspiring engineering leaders out there, I thought we could spend a few minutes examining this topic further.
Unlike many of the career paths for engineers, this track is only destined for a small minority. I’m sure many of you have heard of “the Peter Principal” – that one is only promoted to one’s highest level of incompetence. In other words, a person is promoted because they are good at their current job, until they are no longer good at their job and stop getting promoted. This seems to happen all too often in the engineering field. Good technical engineers are promoted into management or leadership roles only to find that they prefer doing the technical work and are not good at overseeing a large group of people or setting the direction and vision of their firm. So how do you determine early on that a management leadership career path might be right for you one day? Let’s look at a few common traits of managers/leaders:
- Strong communication skills – The ability to convey information effectively with people from all backgrounds and technical areas.
- Business acumen – One who has a penchant towards business and sees the bigger picture.
- People person – The ability to relate well and be respected and revered by peers and subordinates.
- Ability to multi-task and handle stress under fire – An individual that comes out calm, cool, and collected in high stress situations.
- Confident decision maker – One capable of problem solving and exuding clear thought in matters of all levels of importance.
- Team player – A true leader/manager is one that knows there is no “I’ in teamwork.
Now this list is not all encompassing and only touches upon a few traits that are common for a strong manager and leader. For all of you that are interested in pursuing a track in this direction, start small by first taking on a project as a project manager or managing a part-time employee or intern. As they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day” so taking a small amount of management and leadership experience gradually and building upon that over the course of your career is the best course of action and the best way to learn how to be a successful leader.
Achieving a management and/or leadership position takes career-long training to foster and mentor an individual towards success in such a role.
What can you do to prepare yourself for a management/leadership position?
- Take a business class. Many leaders and managers have a strong foundation in business, strategic planning, financials and people management skills. You may also consider continuing on to get your MBA.
- Ask a mentor or an established leader to take you under their wing and train and guide you towards this path. Many of the best leaders have learned from on the job training and have been groomed over the years on the job to become a successful leader.
- Observe and take a lot of notes from the leaders that you admire. As the saying goes “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” and in this case the imitation of the traits and skills of a well respected leader can be a valuable training tool for someone wanting to learn about leadership.
- In some companies, employees are offered a management or leadership training program. Seek out programs like this and volunteer for as many activities, promotions, or projects as you can to help you to gain experience in this area.
For all of you aspiring managers and leaders out there, your journey towards one day running your own business or serving as the Executive Vice President has just begun. Enjoy the journey as one day down the road you will look back at your career path and know that the small steps you took along the way are what set you up for success.