When it comes to your engineering career, you’ve done everything right. You got that hard-earned degree. You snagged the job. You’ve worked and sweated. You’ve proven yourself to your firm. Now, you want to take the next step into management.
Just one problem: How do you show your bosses that you’re ready and able to take on the role?
The good news is that making this transition is not as challenging as it may seem. About half of all workers with college STEM training
are now working in non-STEM jobs, particularly finance, business and management, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. There is a path to follow here.
Have a Plan
Too many professionals fall into the trap of complacency when it comes to their careers. Before you know it, 20 years have gone by and you’re not where you thought you would be. That’s why developing a plan is an important first step to any long-term goal.
“If management is an area you're interested in, it's a good idea to say, ‘I’m in this place right now. I would like to end up over there in five years. What do I have to do right now in order to be prepared when the time comes?” says engineering career strategist Terry Suffredini.
Management involves a different skillset than what you’ve likely been employing in your engineering position.
“It’s a totally different animal being in management. Oftentimes you're not doing the day-to-day technical stuff anymore,” Suffredini says. “For the average technical person who’s a left-brained, analytical thinker, it's not a natural transition. So you need to be prepared for it.”
Training doesn’t necessarily mean going back to school to get your MBA. You can study on your own, through reading, taking online courses, or participating in leadership seminars and finding a mentor who’s in the field.
Hone Your People Skills
A major component of management is, not surprisingly, being able to manage people. If you’re not a “people” person, it’s time to become one. That means it’s important to work on your interpersonal and communication skills
“Management and leadership really come down to people. If you think because you're good at something technically, you're going to be a good manager, that's not necessarily the case. Once you get into management, you have to delegate. You have to manage teams. You have to deal with confrontations. You have to call clients and run meetings. If you're not comfortable doing that, it's going to be difficult to be successful as a manager,” says Anthony Fasano, bestselling author, speaker, and founder of the Engineering Management Institute.
One thing you can do to hone these skills is find opportunities for public speaking. It shows your firm you’re a good communicator and able to lead discussions. It’s also a skill many engineers don’t have, which means you’ll stand out all the more.
Not only is networking
a good way to continue developing your interpersonal skills, it’s also useful to develop positive relationships with other people in your field — particularly if you ever find yourself looking for work outside of your firm. The best approach is to figure out how you can help other people in your network. In this case, helping others is helping yourself.
“Networking is not just about what I can get. It’s about giving,” Suffredini says. “What can I give? How can I support others in getting what they want? There’s that old saying from Zig Ziglar, ‘You can have everything in life you want, if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.’ Make those connections and maintain those over time.”
Exercise Your Right Brain
While it’s important to have strong analytical skills both as an engineer and as a manager, upper-level positions often involve a bit more creative thinking
than you may be doing now. Maybe that means taking some nontechnical courses, like business training, or it could even mean doing something artistic or studying a language. Whatever it means for you, start developing your right brain.
“When you start to exercise the other side of your brain, you can really have success outside of the engineering field, because you're taking your analytical skills and adding to them, Fasano says. “It gives you a big advantage, because most people usually focus on either or.”
Tim Sprinkle is an independent author.