Difficult to manage?

Written by: Tim Fryer | Published:

Are good engineers good managers? I was struck by how many are, or at least the difference it makes if they are, at the recent Engineering Design Show, where I had the pleasure of hosting the conference.

A recurring theme throughout the presentations was the sense of direction and communication within the design teams, whatever sector they were involved in – automotive, sport, medical, aerospace. Perhaps it is easier to motivate a team if there is a clear objective, like winning a race or launching an airship, but – and perhaps professional football teams is a good parallel – the best teams do seem to have the best managers.

Our survey earlier in the year showed that the engineers who read Eureka spend a considerable amount of time doing various management duties. Further to their basic role as engineering designers, in a typical week 78% were involved in internal meetings, 42% in external ones, 69% in project management, 52% in general office management – there was even 27% who regularly took care of health and safety issues. It is a mixed bag and often engineers who are good at engineering get promoted, quite reasonably, to positions of management. But it doesn’t mean that they are naturally adept at the variety of management, particularly man-management, functions this involves. Some are obviously good and they are the ones that may win races or launch aircraft, while others in less glamorous industries can keep their company’s technology roadmap in place and on track.

For the majority though the skills of managing and inspiring a team are less instinctive but they can be developed over time and they can be taught. I think the moral of the story here, looking at both our conference presenters and at the winners of this year’s BEEAs (see page 16), is that many of these award-winning companies invest in developing the complete skill set of an individual, not just the technical skill set of the engineer.

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