Nine Critical Competencies/Attributes Essential For Effective Engineering Leadership

November 24, 1995


This is a fundamental requirement for success. Communications are the basic means available for imparting information to people through written and oral channels. Engineering leaders must be sufficiently articulate to provide the information required by their teams to make effective decisions and act as a representative of their company, either formally or informally. This implies the need for competence in both oral and written communications skills, as these are the tools available to the engineering leader for inspiring trust and commitment from their work team. An often neglected aspect of communications skills, is the ability to "listen." This implies sensitivity, caring, and active listening to facilitate trust and team commitment.


This competency is defined as the ability to rationally analyze "ill-structured" complex problems from multiple perspectives � from a "mutilogical" point of view. When we fail to view a complex problem from more than one perspective, there is a danger of reaching an erroneous solution whereas critical thinking provides several alternative perspectives from which to view situations. This enhances the probability of accurate understanding of the problem and better nonobvious solutions. This is one of the major reasons, of course, for the movement towards team-based work and diversity in the workplace � the ability to incorporate multiple perspectives (critical thinking) in decision making.


One of the common expectations of organizations, in their efforts to cope with the growing intensity of competition, is to require that most employees and virtually all management personnel be competent in strategic thinking. This is sometimes called the ability to understand the "big picture," and how their company fits into their industry and its larger context. Unlike the 1980�s, when there was a movement towards specialization, in today�s work setting the movement is towards being a generalist with a broad range of skills that provides deep understanding of the many facets of the business and its competitive environment. In essence, engineering leaders must recognize the importance of strategic management and know how to plan and manage strategically, as these tasks have been delegated down the organization hierarchy.


While there is some confusion regarding the definition of leadership, at its core is DIRECTION SETTING, or the ability to formulate, state, and build consensus on common goals and achieving them. We believe four basic components contribute to this capability. VISION: Effective leaders must be able to gain the commitment of their team members to a shared higher vision and motivate them to carry out that vision. EMPOWERMENT: Effective engineering leaders must not only provide decision making authority to their team members, they must also enable them to use that authority. Trust is created as a result of having the latitude to take a risk and fail. Competence is enhanced when engineering leaders mentor, coach, and educate their diverse work team. INTEGRITY: Ultimately, the "leader" is the role model for the team. Only in this way can engineering leaders hope to instill the trust level necessary for the positive culture that is critical for achieving the highest levels of performance. FOLLOWERSHIP: The engineering leader must be able to switch hats by exhibiting the capability for helping his/her leader accomplish the organization�s goals � thinking independently rather than relying solely on managerial direction.


The ability to persuade, negotiate, and interact effectively with others is contingent on possessing strong interpersonal skills. Historically, these have not been critical competencies for engineers, but the team-based work environment demands high proficiency in these competencies. Some of the attributes that comprise positive interactions with others include self-confidence, the ability to build effective relationships and rapport with others, regardless of their status in the organization.


This competence has only recently been recognized for the significant difference it can make in high performance. Networking is the ability to move beyond the formal channels of communication and official positions in an organization to connect with the people who can provide the information and resources needed to get a job done. One executive recently observed that middle managers, who have now all but disappeared from organizations, used to be the "networkers" in organizations. Their absence makes it incumbent upon engineering leaders to build reliable networks before they actually need them.


Truly successful engineering leaders are those who seize the initiative by accepting responsibility "above and beyond the call of duty." They volunteer for activities and assignments that are beyond their job descriptions, perhaps without even being asked. Such actions must help other people besides yourself and involve some risk taking. An example of this type of behavior is someone who becomes a product or project champion � they decide to take on a major project and perhaps single-handedly manage to persuade key organizational members of the merit of the project.


This aspect of effective engineering leaders refers to an individual�s willingness to embrace continuous self improvement and adapt to changing organizational circumstances and personalities in a calm and resilient manner. In particular, this competency reflects an engineering leader�s ability to use feedback constructively for self-awareness and realistically evaluate his/ her strengths and weaknesses.


There is a growing awareness of the importance of this component of character as being fundamental to achieving success in the rapidly changing team-based work environment. Having a strong understanding of self and others and adherence to a set of guiding principles provides the spiritual foundation that enables enlightened and effective leadership. This is the platform that enables leaders to make tough decisions and act courageously in the face of adversity.

(Source: American Society for Engineering Management � "The Engineering Leader and Leading Change")

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