For many engineers who are interested in career advancement, a common path is to move into a more managerial role within the industry. There are plenty of perks that come with such a promotion, not least the salary boost, but there can also be several difficulties. This is because the role of an engineer and the role of a manager are extremely different.
As an engineer you will probably have been mainly focusing on improving your technical expertise, specialist knowledge, and problem-solving skills. As a manager, however, you need to be able to deal directly with people, handle budgets, and carry out all sorts of other tasks that you might not have had any experience with before.
Luckily, if you have ambitions of climbing the career ladder or have recently been promoted to a managerial role, there are certain steps you can take to help prepare yourself for the demands of these higher-level positions. Here are some top tips.
Do your homework
If you are very new to the managerial world, there is a whole wealth of information that you can gain from resources on the subject. For example, you can read books specifically on the subject of engineering management or on management more generally, listen to industry podcasts, browse relevant blogs, read autobiographies of successful leaders, and sign up to newsletters on the topic. Be careful to avoid information overload though! It is best to find a few, high quality resources that truly resonate with you, rather than trying to consume everything that is out there.
The other factor to bear in mind is that you want to be an active learner, not a passive one. Try to put the tips you are studying into practice in the real world in order to ensure that you retain as much of the information as possible and get the most use out of it. If you have a friend or family member you can discuss what you are learning with, that will help you to understand the concepts better too.
Develop your soft skills
As a successful engineer there will be plenty of skills you already have in spades, from math and physics to problem solving and creativity. However, in order to be a successful manager, you are going to have to develop a whole lot of new skills – and the sooner you start working on them, the better.
For example, some of the transferable skills that will prove invaluable in a managerial role include people-focused ones such as leadership, communication, teamwork and negotiation. Then there are also more admin-based talents such as organization, time management, budgeting, and so on. Make a list of all the abilities you think you will need and assess your strengths in each one. That way you will know which you need to focus on and improve the most. You can find plenty of advice online about how to boost these skills, as well as from books and podcasts.
Study for an MBA
If you are truly serious about moving into high level managerial roles, then returning to formal education and taking an MBA could be perfect for you. An MBA (Master of Business Administration) will teach you all the specialist knowledge required to succeed in those types of jobs. You can click here to read about the program in more depth, but here is a quick overview of the sorts of topics you can expect to cover:
- Accounting and Finance for Managers
- Big Data
- Business Ethics
- Business Strategy
- Consumer Behavior
- Critical Leadership Decisions
- Decision Analytics
- Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving
- Digital Business
- Financing Green Technologies
- Intellectual Property
- International Business
- Investments and Risk Management
- Leading Global Teams
- Managing People and Organizations
- Mergers and Acquisitions
The best part is that many MBA programs can be studied on a part-time basis – often on evenings and weekends – or even online. That means you can easily fit the course around your current job. Some companies will even pay for certain staff members to study, so be sure to check with your manager before enrolling to see if that is an option for you.
Build your network and find mentors
One of the key factors in management is being able to build and maintain strong relationships, so it is key to begin expanding your network. Meet with non-engineers to learn more about the work they do and other sides of the business that you work for, as well as engineers who have successfully transitioned into managerial roles to see what wisdom you can pick up from them. If you are lucky, you will find one or two people who are willing to act as an informal mentor to you and advise you on how to build your skills and experience.
Even if you are unable to find an official mentor, you can still learn a lot from those around you. Observe people who are currently working in managerial roles and consider what they are doing well and what they are not doing so well. This kind of analysis will help you to figure out what kind of manager you want to be, and how to get there.
Seek out relevant experience
As an engineer, you are probably well aware of the benefits of learning by doing. See if your company is willing to send you on any relevant training courses, or if you can volunteer to take on some project management tasks for your team. You can start small, and slowly build up to bigger projects or more complicated tasks. This can be helpful for two reasons. Firstly it gets you relevant experience and the chance to develop your skills, but secondly it helps you to figure out if a managerial role is truly the type of career path you want.
In addition to being a fantastic learning opportunity, it also shows your managers and other high up people within your company that you are proactive, interested in progressing your career, and willing to put in the effort to do so. All of this means that when it is time for them to review candidates for promotions, you will be top of the list.
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