Becoming an Engineering Leader: Making the Shift from Individual Contributor to Manager


Most engineers enter the workforce as individual contributors. And the job is fairly straightforward—you rely on data and individual efforts to impact outcomes. Your technical knowledge is your most important skill set as you work with others to achieve the team’s goals.


Moving Into Engineering Management

But what happens when you start to work your way up to management? While your technical skills are still important to help you make decisions, you can no longer rely on your technical knowledge alone to help you succeed. As an engineering leader, the technical knowledge you possess in your field will be only one of many elements needed to develop people and projects.


Engineering Leadership Skills

Fortunately, you do not have to be born with leadership skills to become an engineering leader. This set of skills can be developed over time. If you want to transition into a leadership position, there are a variety of skills you should develop including:

  • Finance: Individual contributors have the luxury of only considering the technology when it comes to making recommendations. However, leaders also need to consider the business objectives and goals of the organization, including the finances. It’s vital that managers possess the ability to find balance between their organization’s financial and technical needs.
  • People Skills: Professionals who enter engineering management can no longer base their projects solely on technical requirements. It is enormously important to develop the ability to sell ideas, influence people, and understand the impact of your words and actions. In order to achieve organizational objectives while negotiating with other business leaders, you must be able to translate technical needs into laymen’s terms. As an engineering leader, you also need to be able to motivate and support the individual contributors who you manage. Learning to understand what drives the people on your team, as well as how to clear the roadblocks they may face, requires good listening and communication skills. Leaders with these traits are more successful at creating environments that help people do their best work.
  • Networking: An extension of people skills, engineering leaders must be able to collaborate across a wide range of departments. This means building trust with people in your organization that you may not work with on a regular basis. In order to build consensus and achieve business goals, the most effective engineering leaders are those who seek to understand the needs of each group at the table.
  • Strategic Planning: A major component of engineering leadership is the ability to see the big picture. When planning and leading projects, there are many areas of strategy that need to be considered, including business strategy, product roadmap, financial strategy, intellectual property strategy, and human capital constraints. By developing your strategic planning ability, you are able to make decisions with the long-view in mind. This type of thinking can completely transform your organization as well as help you lead effectively.


Prepare Promising Individual Contributors for Engineering Management

For engineering leaders who want to help promising individuals on their teams develop the skills necessary for leadership roles, IEEE has partnered with Rutgers Business School to offer the IEEE | Rutgers Online Mini-MBA for Engineers. Designed specifically for organizations, this program operates entirely online. It features topics including business strategy, managing product development, finance, negotiation, managing human capital, intellectual property strategy, and transformational agility.

Designed for groups of ten or more within an organization, participants learn how organizational decisions are made with both technical and operational considerations. After developing an understanding of how different functional groups interact to achieve overall goals, they will learn to apply their newly developed business skills to better align their technical capabilities with business strategy.

The program offers the option of a customized capstone project, completely aligned to the needs of your organization. As part of the project, you’ll receive feedback from program professors who have worked as engineering leaders themselves.

To learn more about the IEEE | Rutgers Online Mini-MBA for Engineers for your organization, contact an IEEE Account Manager today.



Pop, Jake Bennett. (31 Jul 2016). When Engineers Become Managers: How to Be a Great Technical Leader. VentureBeat.

Hsu, Jean. The Curious Transition to Becoming an Engineering Manager. GitPrime Blog.

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