The Skills Needed to Keep Engineering Projects on Target

by Brad Fein
Engineer team planning

Engineering managers have the challenging job of coordinating and supervising their teams, while at the same time monitoring the progress of the project in a way that gives their teams enough autonomy to stay motivated and on task.

The manager’s responsibility is to use a combination of soft and hard skills to create an atmosphere of teamwork, respect and open communication. They must also possess the technical knowledge required for solving complex problems and coming up with creative solutions. An effective engineering manager will understand that an open dialogue with team members can spark the creativity that can lead to innovations in their industry.

Effective engineering management includes being able to make tough decisions that may not be popular but will benefit the project to keep it within a deadline and on budget. Areas, where an engineering manager should excel, include technical skills, problem-solving, communication, organization, leadership, interpersonal skills, and fostering an atmosphere of collaboration.

They must also have the ability to take large, unmanageable tasks and break them down into smaller, quantifiable jobs that make the task less stressful. Other areas that are important for the effective management of engineers include providing clear and reasonable instructions and expectations, encouraging a culture of open communication, conducting regular reviews, and adjusting priorities and resources.

 Technical skills

 When the manager of the team is well-versed in the technology of the industry, the members of the team are more willing to take direction from them and listen to them when they have a solution. A strong knowledge of technology can help a manager guide their team in the right direction and pinpoint problems before they occur so that the project can stay on schedule and within budgetary parameters.

Managers also use their technical skills to communicate with their engineering teams on their level and use the language of the industry to set clear expectations and convey complex ideas. This makes brainstorming much easier and more collaborative, as everyone is at the same level of knowledge and expertise. Technical skills also give engineering managers the advantage of knowing what tools will be required for a job and other resources available to make any project flow smoothly, efficiently, and fiscally viable.

 Problem-solving skills

 Problem-solving skills are beneficial to engineering managers when trying to get high-quality work out of their teams. Solving problems requires analytical thinking and critical analysis, which is necessary to evaluate and identify the best course of action. Problem-solving skills also help managers understand their team’s dynamics and identify potential issues before they arise. This allows them to take proactive measures to ensure that high-quality work is produced in a timely manner.

Effective problem-solving takes all variables into account and knows how those variables can affect the outcome. Research is often needed to find all solutions available, and the ability to think outside the box and get creative is necessary for a holistic approach to the problem. When problem-solving, managers should consider the variables that can influence the outcome. Managers need to evaluate the pros and cons of the solutions and decide on the best course of action that will bring the necessary results within the deadline and budget of the project.

Communication skills

A manager can have all the knowledge in the world, but without being able to communicate it effectively, it is useless to the engineering team and the project. Communication skills can help with motivation and provide clear direction on the tasks that need to be completed. Communication is valuable in monitoring the project as it progresses so that any issue can be dealt with before it becomes a significant problem. When a manager is clear and concise with their team on the expectations but also open to feedback from the team members, it creates an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual respect. This makes it easy to work creatively and successfully.

Organizational skills

A good engineering manager will have the ability to delegate tasks and distribute them among the team with realistic deadlines and a clear plan of follow-up. Organizing a team so that everyone is productive and collaborative, as well as communicating any issues in a timely fashion, can bring about excellence and innovation. The organization does not come easy to everyone and it requires consistency and discipline, so a manager’s job is not just to organize the project, but also to teach the engineers how to be organized to achieve excellence.

Great organizational skills allow the engineering manager to assign a mixture of interesting and mundane tasks to each team member so that they do not feel bored or unfairly treated. They are also able to prioritize projects in terms of what needs to be done first and assign tasks to their team accordingly. This sets the tone for the team in terms of operational efficiency, and no time is wasted on tasks that can be done at another time.

Leadership skills

A strong leader understands that leadership is not shouting orders at people and expecting them to follow blindly. Engineering managers should know that when dealing with highly educated individuals, the best policy is open communication, mutual respect, and a collaborative environment.

A strong leader can motivate and guide their team toward excellence by allowing them to do what they do best within the budgetary guidelines and timelines of the project. Promoting a feeling of ownership in a project and mutual respect will ensure that when something that could potentially jeopardize the project arises, the team is able to communicate openly without fear of repercussions. Strong leaders also build team morale by regularly giving positive and constructive feedback. By doing this, the engineers know that their work is valued.

Leadership skills are one of the many facets of good management that an individual can learn from a Master of Engineering Management online. An online degree with an accredited school such as uOttawa can help engineering professionals take the next step in their career growth with enough flexibility to still work and support themselves.

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills play an important role in any leadership position. These skills include listening and understanding a team member’s perspective or concerns, the ability to listen openly without bias, asking questions and reiterating concerns to show the team member that they are being heard, and offering solutions and asking for feedback. A good leader needs to listen carefully to all the issues and treat each one with care and consideration.

Soft skills such as this are essential in getting the best results from the team, as everyone is working together toward one goal and feels respected and valued. When a good manager leads, they are acting as a mentor for their team and fostering an environment in which everyone’s opinion and ideas matter and are able to be heard.


There is a reason why successful technology companies foster collaboration over other types of management structures. Collaborative work environments provide the perfect atmosphere for the free flow of creativity and innovation. When an engineering manager is open to collaboration, everyone on the team benefits personally and professionally, and the project is much more likely to be completed on time and within budget. Collaboration also encompasses inclusiveness where all ideas are heard. This makes for lively discussions and points of view that may not otherwise be heard in a traditional work environment.

Collaborative workplaces help team members take ownership of tasks and the project, which naturally increases efficiency and productivity. When engineers have a voice in the outcome of the project, they are likely to deliver higher-quality work than if they just think of it as ‘another job’. They also have more of an opportunity to learn from each other, which enriches the experience for everyone involved.

Break down projects into small tasks

 Most large projects can seem daunting because of the magnitude of the task, and it can be overwhelming to team members when they first begin to analyze what needs to be done. A good manager will recognize this and help the team break down the tasks so that they are more manageable and easier to deliver.

Smaller tasks can also be quantifiable and give an indication of whether any changes need to be made. When an engineer can focus on one small task at a time with clear expectations, the stress of a large undertaking goes away. Smaller tasks help individuals deliver higher-quality work. The tasks are not overwhelming and follow-up is simpler and can be done more often.

Breaking down projects into tasks also helps managers stay on top of deadlines and handle any changes that may occur during the development process. They can allocate resources efficiently and respond more quickly to any changes that need to be made before they jeopardize the project. Budget limits are also easier to keep track of because a smaller task that is coming over budget is much easier to deal with than a whole project being over budget.

Engineer working on Project

Provide clear instructions and expectations

 It is important for managers to provide clear instructions to their teams to help them understand the goal of the project and have everyone on the same page. When all members of the team are working in tandem toward the same outcome, problems due to miscommunication are at a minimum. The team will also be able to check on themselves and other members because they know where the project should be at a specific time and whether resources need to be reallocated to one particular area. When expectations or instructions have to change, all team members must understand the reason for the change and how to get it done.

When the expectations are clear, there is less chance of any part of the project being redirected on its own or anyone working toward a competing goal. The result is clear to everyone, and any deviation from it should be evident immediately to all parties involved. This will help to keep the project on track. It also ensures that the team is working efficiently and not spending time on independent tasks that an individual may deem necessary.

Encourage a culture of open communication

 It is crucial for engineering managers to establish a culture of open communication on a project. Deviations and problems that are caught at the end of the project are costly and can jeopardize a successful completion. A culture of open communication ensures that everyone is confident to speak up if they notice an issue or if they make a mistake. All members of the team need to understand that they won’t be judged or reprimanded for errors so that they can report them immediately. When issues are hidden, they can turn into larger problems that inevitably cost more money and time for the project.

Open communication among team members ensures that all participants are up to date on the progress of the project and that they are aware of the next tasks or any changes. They will also understand who is working on what task so that there is no duplication of work and wasted time. It is crucial that all team members are informed of challenges or problems so that they can avoid them and also provide solutions if they have come across a similar situation in the past. Open communication encourages creativity and innovation as well as thoughtful input and new ideas.

 Regularly conduct reviews of team progress

 Regular work reviews and feedback are not designed to find flaws in people’s work, but rather to ensure that the team member is meeting their deadlines and is on track to finish their task. It is also a good moment for the manager to praise the engineer on their quality of work and strengthen their feelings of ownership in the project. Regular check-ups also ensure that any errors in work are caught right away before they become larger issues. If regular reviews bring to light a deficiency in work or unwillingness to work toward a common goal, steps can be taken to redirect the engineer to another task or remove them from the project so that it is not in jeopardy.

Regular reviews also hold all team members to the same standard of work ethic and quality. This way, everyone is pulling their weight equally and no resentments build up. The review of progress can also bring to light any changes that might need to be made immediately, and these can be communicated to the whole team. This can also provide a manager with a teaching moment where team members can review each other’s work and provide useful feedback.

 Adjust priorities and resources as needed

 A good engineering manager will be able to recognize when priorities need to be shifted and resources allocated. By following the other steps in management and performing regular reviews, flaws in the design or problems that may arise can be nipped in the bud at a minimum cost and time. Using open communication techniques, managers can adjust priorities and let the entire team know so that everyone can make their own adjustments and stay on course.

Managers may also need to make quick decisions on resource allocation, depending on how the priorities change, and quickly reassign engineers to a new task or move resources to another area that needs more help. Being able to do this confidently and quickly helps the project stay on budget and within a deadline, and builds confidence in the team.

When a team has confidence in their leader, they feel confident that the direction they are heading in is the right one, and they are less prone to breaking off and moving in their own direction. Proper prioritization and open communication show the team that their manager is keeping abreast of all aspects of the project and working toward a successful outcome.


When engineering managers possess these various skills, they can create a team that fosters creativity and innovation. The technological world has made progress in leaps and bounds in the last decade, partly due to open work environments where communication and inclusiveness are encouraged. These diverse teams promote healthy debate and open dialogue so that ideas that are outside the box are considered and turned into realities. When intelligent, talented individuals such as engineers are allowed to communicate their ideas freely, projects are more likely to have a successful outcome.

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