Engineer to Manager – Managing the Transition

Anyone who is familiar with Engineering Industry would agree that being a great engineer may not always guarantee that one will be a good engineering manager. By the time you complete reading the first sentence, I am sure many known faces, of your colleagues and bosses,  would have come to your mind who would have been excellent engineers but big failures as engineering managers. Technically competent engineering  professionals face new challenges when they move into management positions. They need to address people issues involving their staffs , business issues, organizational business goals and strategies, and leadership issues. This does not mean that good engineers cannot be successful managers. It is only that Management and Engineering require different set of skills and it is quite rare that someone has the best of both skills.

In Engineering for nearly any technical or scientific problem there is a “right” answer. But in the case of management there is seldom a “right” answer when it comes to most management decisions. There are answers that work, answers that are “effective”, not necessarily the “one-and-only” right answer.

Being an effective manager is not about having the “one-and-only” correct answer in a given management situation. It’s about managing the teams in ways that work, in ways that achieve the operational objective. There often isn’t even one “best” way to manage in a given situation. A given situation may have several paths to the desired operational outcome. And the most effective way to manage will depend on several important factors such as the people involved; the project risk; the time involved; and the relative expertise of the team and the manager.

Some of the key areas to focus on for a successful transition from a talented engineer to an efficient manager are as follows:

Leadership: Possession of good leadership qualities is an asset for manager. A manager who leads by example is always well accepted by the subordinates.

Communication: The success of a manager depends on his/her ability to communicate effectively with others: both  to understand and to be understood. Communication needs to be clear and correct to avoid any misunderstandings and to increase the productivity.

Trust: To achieve a common objective, build the trust. Listen attentively to the team members for their opinions and keep to your words and promises. Delegate the tasks, guide them and let him know of their accountability. Encourage them to display competence and creativity and allow them to give you feedback and offer suggestions.

Management Style: Technical experts who move in to management has a tendency to do micro management of technical issues. Deliberate care should be taken to avoid this.  It should be understood that as a manager your job is only macro management of  technical issues and the best results can be obtained by empowering your team to do the micro management.

Result Oriented: In Result Oriented Management, the employee delivers results to the manager and remains responsible for the deliverance of these results whilst the manager puts trust in the expertise of the employee to deliver the results. The employee should be empowered to tackle the issues arising in order to get the best results.

Team Building: It should be understood that as a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure better coordination among your team members. Team building activities should be organized from time to time to ensure cohesiveness and comradeship among the team members to achieve the common goal of organizational success.

Team Support : A manager who supports his team is bound to get the best output from his subordinates. The technical expertise you have achieved over the years as an engineer coupled with your professional experience should be utilized in an effective manner to help your team member to resolve issues when ever they look up to you for your support. Care should be taken not to over do this as it may lead to over engineering and may be seen as a hindrance or micromanagement.

Clear Vision: As a manager, you should have a clear vision in order to achieve the organizational goals. This vision has to be effectively communicated to your team members and each member should be made aware of what exactly is expected from them to achieve the goal.

Welfare of Team Members: As a manager it should be understood that you are not only responsible for the success of the project or achievement of organizational goals but also for the welfare of the team members. Efforts should be made to plan and execute career development activities for the team member from time to time. Your experience and expertise may be used to help the employee plan his career in the best possible manner for self and for the organization.

Decisiveness: As a manager, your job is to bring clarity and focus to an otherwise unpolarized collection of people. You should be decisive and have a strong and clear sense of what you are doing and why, and then unflinchingly execute.

Accountability: A good manager will take the responsibility of the failures of his team. A responsible manager follow up any failure with a through analysis for the causes of failure and takes necessary corrective actions to avoid similar mistakes in future.

Reward: One of the best way to motivate your team is to give them the due credit for the success of your team. Each member should be made to feel that he or she is an integral part of the team and their contribution is valuable however small or big their role is.

Fairness & Integrity: In order to succeed in your role as a manager, you have to be honest, forthcoming, and treat everyone you come across with fairness and integrity. All team members should be treated with respect and care should be taken to avoid any kind of partiality or unfair practices among the team.

Balanced Life: Live your life well and enjoy work as one part of it.  Ensure that your team members too live it well and balance their work and personal life well enough to maintain a high morale in all aspects.

These are few areas which needs to be taken care of during your transition from an engineer to a manager. In addition to that Management education and training are also seen to be vital steps in the conversion of engineers to managers. It must be remembered that managerial position requires an ability to set objectives, prepare schedules or plans for their accomplishment, set priorities for subordinates, and monitor and evaluate their progress. You must be willing to continuously learn new skills and techniques in order to keep yourself updated with the world and to successfully manage the challenges ahead.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Sriganesh R
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 14:14:06

    Hi Arshad,

    Well written. Yes, being technically competent does not ensure that one is a good manager. Both are different paradigms.

    There is a good book called Peter Principle.


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