An engineering project manager is a challenging and demanding position, holding considerable responsibility. Projects can take many months or even years to complete, and the engineering project manager needs to be on top of the process from start to finish. Among the tasks a project manager needs to successfully achieve are interacting with and managing the different people involved in the project, scheduling and managing the various tasks of the project, keeping the project flowing smoothly through the different phases from planning to design, building, testing and completion and ensuring that the project meets the requirements of the client. To say that an engineering project manager needs to be skilled in many areas is an understatement!
If becoming an engineering project manager is a career direction that interests you, it is worth looking at the skills and traits you will need to be successful. These can range from soft skills through to technical expertise. Armed with this knowledge, you can hone your skills in your current position or undertake any necessary additional training to take the next step in your career.
Developing the skills
There are many ways to develop the traits and skills of a good engineering project manager. You may use some of the traits in your existing role and find ways to practice them, seeking feedback from others on how to improve. Methods could include volunteering for any opportunities and responsibilities that come your way to demonstrate your managerial skills, as well as making sure you manage your current position to the best of your ability. Working closely with the engineering project manager in your current company is an excellent way to learn from an expert. They may even take on a mentoring role, helping you to work towards your career ambitions.
For other skills, you may need to undertake formal training, gaining qualifications to prove to prospective employers that you have the required skillset. An engineering management degree program will give you a recognized qualification that is certain to impress prospective employers and provide the specialized training you need. If you already hold a bachelor’s degree and are working in an area where becoming an engineering project manager is the next logical step, a master’s degree can further develop your skills. These programs can be taken through many universities and will help boost your resume when applying for positions.
Not everyone wants to take time out of the workplace for study or finds it practical to attend university. Even if you want to, the financial commitments of home and family may make it impossible for you to take time away from the workplace. Fortunately, online courses offer a more flexible approach without sacrificing any of the quality through courses that are just as rigorous and challenging as their in-person counterparts. For those looking to enroll in a Master’s in Engineering and Management, the University of Ottawa offers a program designed to strengthen both engineering and management skills. Designed with working professionals in mind, their online Master’s in Engineering Management is 100% online and delivered by experts in the field to support students in learning how to better mobilize money, technology and people.
While different companies and projects may require particular skills, there are some skills and traits that are vital for all engineering project managers to master to succeed in their career.
Communication involves the skills of both speaking and listening. Being able to effectively communicate information, while also being able to absorb and understand the information they receive, is a key trait of an engineering project manager. Communication skills are used at every stage of a project, from thoroughly understanding the requirements of the client and being able to convey how their project will be managed to delivering effective instructions to what may be a vast team of employees and suppliers. Poor communication can cause problems that delay or even jeopardize the project, which risks increasing the expenses or even putting lives in danger.
While we may focus on vocal communication, as an engineering project manager, communication is not necessarily going to be carried out in person. Good telephone skills are essential for communication that takes place via the phone or video. Communication also often takes place in written form, ranging from quick texts to emails and vast document attachments.
No matter how long or short the message or information you are conveying, it needs to be done effectively while minimizing the likelihood of misunderstandings. Brushing up on writing skills, being precise about spelling and grammar or familiarizing yourself with the software to correct it, can help you deliver all written communication in a professional and authoritative manner that is easy to understand.
Throughout a project, you will need to be able to answer any questions from those involved and also listen to any questions or concerns that may arise. Projects do not always run smoothly, but effective communication, including taking the time to listen to others on your team, can help stop any problems in their tracks.
While goods listening skills are vital, they are not sufficient on their own to rectify any problems. A good trait for an engineering project manager to have is to be able to analyze the information given to you, even at short notice, identifying all the useful factors and checking for any dangers. They will then need to use this analysis to inform decision making on how the project will proceed, determining any action that needs to be taken and the resources that are needed to ensure it runs smoothly while achieving the highest standards.
Engineering project managers should be excellent problem solvers. Many problems can arise during a project ranging from unrealistic client expectations to failures in the supply chain and problems within the team. Additionally, there can be unexpected events completely out of your control, such as poor weather or unavoidable accidents, that will cause problems that the project manager needs to address. Linking into the analytical skills, a good problem solver should be able to solve issues in a way that creates the least adverse effects on the project, getting it back on track as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
Calm under pressure
Becoming a project manager is not for the faint hearted! They need to be on top of multiple issues and deal with many different people, often all at the same time. Engineering project managers tend to be skilled at multi-tasking. As discussed above, problems can arise at any stage of the project, presenting their own challenges for the engineering project manager.
No matter what occurs, the engineering project manager will need to remain calm. Becoming flustered will not only hinder their ability to solve any issues, but it may exacerbate the situation and cause further problems, which can result in a downward spiral of problems and stress. By remaining calm, even in the most adverse or complicated of situations, the project manager has a greater chance to solve the problem, reducing the complications or dangers it poses and returning the project to its planned course.
Engineering projects are often large and complex. They may involve materials from many different suppliers that need to arrive at the right time in the right numbers. They can also involve many different workers, each bringing their own set of skills to the project. Ensuring the smooth running of the project cannot be left to luck. Instead, the project manager needs to be on top of every detail, ensuring the logistics run smoothly, that the right employees are present at the right time, knowing what supplies are to be ordered and when and ensuring the safety of all involved in the project are just a few of the many responsibilities.
All this requires an engineering project manager to be highly organized, to have a solid, detailed plan and to have strategies in place to help them keep track of everything that needs to be done. Different project managers will have their own systems as to what helps them be organized, but there are many types of software available to help with the logistics of large projects that can help keep you on top of organization. While every responsibility cannot be the project manager’s alone, it is their responsibility to make sure qualified people are in place so such responsibilities can be responsibly delegated and to be available if workers need any support.
Leadership skills are essential for getting the best out of your team and as an engineering project manager, organizing teams is a major part of the job. This will include motivating your team to ensure they do their best work. You will also need to make your expectations clear, so each team achieves what is necessary on time to complete the project to the client’s satisfaction.
Many engineering projects require significant numbers of professionals at all levels. When you have large numbers of people, it is inevitable that there could be conflict. Having diplomatic traits can help engineering project managers solve these disputes, ideally in a way that no one loses face and that allows the team to work well together.
The engineering project manager is in a position of responsibility, and it is important that they live up to that. Many people will be putting their trust in the project manager. The client needs to trust them to complete their project to the required standard and on time. Suppliers need to trust that they will have a professional relationship and be paid on time, and the team needs to know that they will not be over worked or underpaid and that their safety and wellbeing are a priority.
As a result, it is vital that trustworthiness is one of your traits if you hope to become an engineering project manager. This means being honest with everyone and avoiding making false promises. Be realistic with the client about how their project will turn out and what it will cost. Be clear about your expectations with your team from day one and keep communication open with your suppliers.
Everyone knows that mistakes can happen and that events can occur that are out of your control. If that happens then honesty is the key. If the project is delayed, be honest with the client. Do not cut corners to deliver it quicker. If accidents occur, do not be afraid to have them investigated to demonstrate to your team that you want their conditions to improve. Most people understand that perfection is an unrealistic expectation to have. If you can be honest about everything that is taking place, the good and the bad, those involved in the project is more likely to consider you trustworthy.
Becoming an engineering project manager
While this can seem like a daunting set of attributes, happily all these traits can be practiced and developed. No one expects you to be expert in everything. If becoming an engineering project manager interests you, it is worth considering which traits and skills you need to develop and to research training opportunities. With the option of in-person learning and flexible online courses, there is sure to be a course that suits your lifestyle and commitments.
Once qualified, you will likely never look back. An engineering project manager is a highly skilled position where you may face challenges each day, but that is what makes so many engineering project managers thrive. They love the challenge and seeing the results of all the many details they need to consider. While managing projects can be demanding, all that is worth the effort when you see the project through to completion and know you have made a success if it. With such high levels of job satisfaction, you may want to consider if becoming an engineering project manager could be the next step in your career.