David Kubala, P.E., M.ASCE, public works department manager for R.G. Miller Engineers Inc., a Houston-based civil engineering firm, offers advice to engineers just starting their careers in this guest submission.
Managers at civil engineering firms can attest to the fact that the young engineers they hire have excellent technical skills. They are dedicated to what they do and, for the most part, do a good job. However, success in the engineering field requires more than doing “a good job.” Relationships are also important.
Teamwork and an eye on the big picture are essential for positive and continuing relationships with other staff members both above and below your current position. Managers know this, but many new engineers do not. They often get stuck in their cubicles, working on their part of a larger project, finding themselves reluctant to interact with others on their project team because it takes them out of their comfort zones.
As you begin your career in engineering, it would be wise to think like a manager, and managers know that trust is the basis of a good client relationship.
Trust doesn’t simply happen overnight. It grows over time, and the three keys to its foundation are communication, reliability, and accountability.
• Communication is the key to understanding. Communication is more than just talking; it’s listening, actively, to another person’s concerns, needs, and objections, and responding with positive feedback.
Set realistic expectations before beginning the project and keep clients and other members of your project team updated throughout. Let them know of any problems that occur right away – no one wants to hear excuses after the fact.
Provide your clients and project team members with information on the decisions you make on your part of the project – and not just what decision you made, but often include the logic behind it. This type of communication with your client builds their confidence in your work and can help to identify gaps in the client’s expectations for the project early on.
• Reliability is the key to others’ confidence in your ability. Engineering is a service industry, and as in any other service industry, it’s essential to deliver on promises and resist making promises you’ll find difficult to keep. Things can go wrong on any project, so it’s best to make allowances for possible problems when predicting the future. Better to be a hero and complete a project early than have to report on delays.
• Accountability is the key to maturity. Owning your product is critical to the success of every project. Sometimes it’s necessary to help clients make decisions; if you are confident in your ability to carry out your piece of a project, you can help guide the client into doing what’s best.
Accountability is an integral part of being a manager. Taking responsibility for your part of the project signals to management that you are ready for even greater responsibility, and that can ultimately establish you as a leader in your organization.
It takes time to build relationships, but it’s an undertaking that pays big dividends in the long run. In today’s competitive environment, doing a good job is not enough; you must become an active part of the organization and a team player who communicates, delivers, and takes responsibility.
In the process, you will become more than a team player; you will become a leader.