How to Become a Manager From an Engineer?

How to become a manager from an engineer? By becoming a people person while still keeping your technical skills sharp!

Making the leap to managing engineers means realizing that engineers have hearts too. The better you connect, the more kickass you’ll be as a leader.

I’ll share 13 tips to help you make that huge jump.

#1 Become a top-notch engineer

people management as manager

You don’t need to be a mind-blowing engineer to be an amazing manager. Still, having some tech-savvy in your arsenal can do wonders.

I’m talking about diving deep into real-world engineering tasks. Wrestling with the nitty-gritty of intricate projects.

That way, you’ll grasp projects from every angle. As a result, you can whip up spot-on project schedules and budgets. Plus, the engineers you lead will respect your hands-on experience. They’ll know you get it.

Also, you’ll be able to call out any engineer’s bullshit. Like when they insist a task is super tough and needs an extra two weeks. But if you’ve tackled the task yourself, you’ll know it should only take a day to complete.

#2 Embrace a business-savvy mindset

handshake in business

As an engineer, you’re all about conquering the tech world’s complexities. But as a manager, you can’t just obsess over the technical stuff.

You also need to make decisions rooted in the realities of the business world. Here’s a list of factors you’ll need to juggle:

  • Budget
  • Employee benefits and salaries
  • Project timelines
  • Company culture
  • Office politics
  • Human quirks and flaws
  • Lawsuits and liabilities
  • Business outcomes

So, you’ll need to switch your focus to a wider view of projects. Projects today are a blend of business and technical savvy.

I’ve been part of epic large-scale engineering projects. One, for instance, had a budget north of half a billion dollars. But, two years in, investors suddenly bailed. The media claimed the project budget had evaporated.

The truth was way more convoluted. The management was a train wreck, with issues like:

  • Constant catering expenses
  • Never-ending design changes from poor planning
  • Lousy evaluation of subcontractors and employees
  • No concrete project deadlines

There’s always more to the story than meets the eye. The bottom line is, without rock-solid business management, engineering work will grind to a halt.

#3 Nurture empathy

Say goodbye to machines that never sass you back. As a manager, you’ll be dealing with living, breathing beings packed with emotions.

So, you need to be empathetic and lend an ear to people’s worries. Step into their shoes and then figure out how to tackle their issues. Because if one person’s morale nose-dives, the entire team’s productivity can nosedive too.

Mastering the human experience is a secret sauce to help you navigate people’s challenges.

#4 Forge rapport and trust

Nobody will listen to you if they don’t trust you. And a great way to build trust is by getting your hands dirty. Dive into the trenches and help with real engineering work.

I know, as a manager, your official job duties aren’t all about engineering work. But it doesn’t mean you can’t go the extra mile.

In return, you’ll better understand the struggles your engineers face. At the same time, interact with the engineers you’re leading. Remember, you’re not above them, but rather guiding them side by side.

As a bonus, your technical skills will stay sharp. Just refer back to tip #1.

#5 Expand your network

Networking might seem off-putting to many engineers. But as a manager, you need to grow your network.

This doesn’t mean hitting up posh parties and sipping cocktails. Instead, attend industry events and make genuine connections.

The stronger and larger your network, the more options you’ll have. You’ll gain access to more people who can later help you with your projects.

For example, if you’re tight with an inspector, you can directly chat with them to quickly resolve an issue. That’s way better than trying to decipher vague emails from a random inspector.

#6 Create a workplace culture of accountability

You’re the one calling the shots now. You can’t pass the buck to someone else. So, you need to be in constant problem-solving mode. Don’t instantly look to others for solutions.

The good news is, most engineers already have this mindset. But now, decisions aren’t based solely on cold, hard facts.

As a manager, you’ll need to make all kinds of subjective decisions. Be ready to make choices on the fly and own them. This will help foster a culture of accountability.

#7 Stay positive, even in tough times

maintain positivity against all odds

Some days, you might feel like shit, but it’s crucial to always radiate professionalism. Your attitude as a leader shapes the atmosphere around you.

So, make it a habit to stay positive, even if it means putting on a brave face sometimes. Over time, your actions will become second nature, helping maintain a cheerful mood among the team.

The challenge is for introverted engineers: you can’t ever shut yourself off from your team, no matter how you feel.

#8 Establish a structured daily routine

Engineers thrive on structured workdays for their technical tasks. Managers crave the same, but managerial work tends to be more chaotic and less orderly.

As a manager, you deal with people more than the laws of nature, with the latter being far more predictable. So, to maintain your daily structure, always focus on:

  • Managing people
  • Training employees
  • Maximizing productivity
  • Budgeting and scheduling
  • Upholding office culture

Then, create a checklist of the most critical tasks to manage throughout your day, and execute!

#9 Find your Yoda

Every amazing manager has a wise mentor they can lean on for advice. You might be going solo in your company, but having a guru by your side can make all the difference. After all, two heads are better than one, especially during tough times.

To track down a mentor, think about your past bosses or explore the online world. There’s a treasure trove of incredible people out there, just waiting to connect.

Once you’ve found your Yoda, don’t be shy! Grab a bite with them and chat about your burning questions or concerns.

#10 Be a challenge conqueror

When hurdles pop up, don’t rush to seek external counsel. Remember, you’re the captain of your ship now, despite having a mentor.

Tackling problems head-on is a fantastic way to grow. You might trip and fall at first, but those scrapes will only make you stronger and pave the way to becoming an exceptional manager.

#11 Prioritize like a pro

As a manager, your main focus is no longer fixing technical glitches. Instead, it’s all about guiding your team and keeping projects on track. Channel your energy into amplifying your managerial prowess.

And hey, why not work like a well-oiled machine to make your day even more productive? Embrace efficiency and see the difference it makes!

#12 Learn from past and existing great managers and teams

tesla corporation management
Photo Credit: Arno Senoner

Like a 10x engineer, you too can level up as a manager.

Research successful engineering teams to discover what makes them outstanding. Then, adopt those traits for your own team.

Don’t forget to dive into the world of management books as well. Discover the secrets of powerhouse companies like Microsoft, Tesla, and Apple. Mix and match their strategies to build your own unstoppable engineering team.

#13 Master the art of communication

Hone your writing, speaking, and listening skills.

Many engineering problems stem from poor communication. For starters, you’ll frustrate your engineers. You’re their workplace lifeline, yet they struggle to communicate effectively with you.

Even worse, you’ll turn into a bottleneck for engineering projects. Crucial decisions will be made based on flimsy communication.

To supercharge your communication skills, take a look at my articles:

“How to become a manager from an engineer?” wrap up

The shift from engineer to manager is rarely smooth. However, by following these 13 tips, you can navigate the transition with greater ease.

At the same time, always experiment, reflect, and learn. Different workplaces and employees demand distinct management styles. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for becoming a fantastic manager.

What are your thoughts on transitioning from engineer to manager? What do you think makes this change the most challenging?


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