Top 10 Attributes for Successful Leaders in the Engineering Industry
Jul 25, 2013
Wayne S. Wright, CFP, PWS
Wayne S. Wright, CFP, PWS
Principal Fisheries and Wetlands Scientist

“Managers” are largely a thing of the past. Today we need leaders with a much broader understanding of what needs to be done, what skills are needed to do it and how to complete a project in the face of rapid change. Leaders today in the architecture and engineering field have their work cut out for them. The most often stated reasons for employees leaving a firm are that they either felt disconnected from or disliked their boss. This is a very expensive issue.

Industry surveys show it costs the average firm 2.5 times the annual salary of an employee to recruit and train them. Turnover is not only expensive, but also alters competitive advantage. Former employees leave with inside information and drop it into the lap of competitors as they land a new job.

Some have said employee turnover is the great equalizer in the architecture and engineering industry. I think there is a better way. Leadership is not a title – it is within each of us to cultivate and groom the next stage of this industry. Below are the top ten attributes I think leaders of today, and tomorrow, need in the architecture and engineering fields. I recently shared this list in a speech to the Treasure Valley Chapter of the Women in Transportation Society. You can read the full speech (PDF – 403 KB), which includes inspirational quotes and anecdotes from my career on each of the attributes below.

  1. Love it to lead it: A leader who enjoys their work and learns something new each day is a pleasure to work with. All people, even the most stoic among us, carry a passionate place inside themselves. To lead people in the science, architecture and engineering practices today, you must know and understand where your passion lies and demonstrate openly how much you love what you are doing.

  2. Engage enthusiastically: Enthusiasm is contagious. If you engage people enthusiastically, it generates more energy, passion, drive and many good things at work. This is what sets people, teams and companies apart. Leaders need to engage each person tuned to their unique skills and attributes. Not everyone is an extrovert and good leaders need to temper and time their enthusiasm to get the most from their team.

  3. Aware and available: It’s hard to lead from behind a closed door. This includes making yourself unavailable because of a heavy workload or being distracted by things such as the bottom line, weekend plans, or advancing your career more than advancing the team you’re leading. Being aware of the teams’ needs means knowing their strengths and weaknesses; what stimulates and what distracts; and when to jump in and help. A random “How are you?” is a great way to keep aware of your team personally and professionally.

  4. Direct the drive: You can more effectively direct the drive of the team if you openly help them achieve their goals. Every employee has a career objective and goal whether they realize it or not. These objectives and goals stem from the individual personality and drive behind their work. To be effective, a leader must understand the drive that resides in each member of the team. By helping junior employees vision their career path, you become their partner.

  5. Encourage: Delivery is everything. Giving orders, shouting direction, freaking out and micro managing are not good ideas in today’s workplace. Encouragement is more than the way you say something. It includes what you say and how you follow up. Check in often with your team both as a group and individually. Be aware of lapses in judgment or loss of enthusiasm. Encourage careful risk-taking early on in a project to vet new ideas. Set challenges that are fun and meaningful.

  6. Realistically reward: While money motivates employees, it’s not as strong a motivator as it was when I started working 35 years ago. Today’s professionals have deeper interests than a paycheck. Many have side businesses and want flexible hours, some want to work from home; others want the newest and most advanced tools. Take the time to build a toolbox of reward options that match the vision of your firm and the goals and objectives of its employees.

  7. Success breeds success: Great leaders never stop being successful in their profession. Always keep some time for clients and practicing your chosen skill sets. Leaders demonstrate by example when they stay engaged with work that their team perceives as relevant.

  8. Help honestly: From time to time, you will need to jump in, roll your sleeves up and help your team out. This does not mean rewriting every report to “make it your own” during the final review. Be honest and accurate with the help you offer. Check the work, offer suggestions, encourage rewrites or redesigns if needed. If you suggest design alternatives, do it early in the process to avoid schedule and budget demands that last minute ideas create. Never fake a review or be disingenuous with your teams. Be the guru your team expects you to be.

  9. Inspire to innovate: Not everyone is a self-starter. People and teams need inspiration. Your job as a leader is to provide that inspiration. Clearly communicate the company’s vision of its business mission to your team. Simply being “the best” or “the highest quality” does not cut it. Teams respond when they know what they’re doing will make a difference, effect positive change or address big picture problems. Leaders provide the thread of connection between each daily assignment to the bigger picture.

  10. Patience – it is personal: You and your team will spend more time together than you will at home with your friends and families. Business and working together is personal – our lives depend on it. So find the pleasure in working with all your teammates. Show patience and understanding with all things your team experiences. Leaders never freak out. Leaders always have a path forward. Leaders hold the vision of where we are going and how we will get there. Your team counts on you every day for these attributes. They watch and learn from what you do and say.

If you read the first letter of each attribute above, you'll notice it spells LEADERSHIP.
Category:  Community

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