A Comprehensive Guide to Engineering Manager Training

As an engineer of any variety, you have specific knowledge to undertake high-dollar projects and transform an idea into operational efficiencies and cost-cutting measures for clients. Like any other profession, engineers also need guidance and support to complete projects on time and under budget. That’s what makes an engineering manager crucial to any software company, engineering firm, or engineering team within an organization.

However, the career path for any engineer eventually ends at a fork in the road: technical leadership in the form of becoming a senior or upper-level engineer or professional leadership through management.

If you’re an engineer looking toward a management role or an engineering company that wants to improve the quality of management, engineering manager training is a crucial part of the equation. Learn how this training program can make a world of difference whether you’re in the mechanical, chemical, aerospace, or software engineering industries.

What Makes Engineering Management Different From Other Types of Management?

IT manager in a server room

Engineering management is unlike any other type of management because it requires a mix of management skills and technical knowledge. In most cases, engineering managers were once junior, mid-level, or senior engineers themselves, which can make finding a successful candidate through an outside hire more difficult.

Moreover, an engineering manager has an all-encompassing job description. Aside from day-to-day management duties, it also requires the fundamentals of engineering, hands-on interaction in project management, engineering leadership skills, and real-world experience in the discipline. That is to say—engineering management requires a person to wear many hats—if not all of them.

To exacerbate the difficulties of an engineering manager, a high level of ambiguity can fog what needs to be done at any given time. As such, an engineering manager is someone with the vision and drive to succeed on top of their other management duties.

Add this all up, and the need for engineering manager training becomes evident almost immediately, necessitating a program that can lead new managers and even those with years of experience to reach a higher level of achievement.

What Your Engineering Manager Training Needs

Engineering management is an outlier in the management profession that requires a more holistic approach. While your training program should mimic some aspects of traditional management training, it also requires a bit more ingenuity to clarify the role.

Let’s start simple. The engineering manager in your firm needs support, trust, and a certain degree of autonomy to excel in the position. Of these, autonomy affords the manager the opportunity to apply their decision-making, critical-thinking, and problem-solving prowess.

As a business owner or upper management, you create the all-encompassing vision to guide your company. But your management training isn’t micromanagement—it’s giving your engineering manager the keys and allowing them to prioritize tasks.

Define the Role

As mentioned above, engineering managers often deal with a high degree of ambiguity based on the needs of the engineering team, the desires of management and key stakeholders, and the project at hand.

Juggling all of these tasks can feel overwhelming for a manager, so you need clearly defined roles. A job description can highlight the most crucial of tasks, but a one-on-one meeting with your manager is paramount.

During this meeting, outline your day-to-day, monthly, and quarterly expectations, offer support or mentoring, and provide transparency from the top down. This discussion should also be the first phase of building trust. If a manager doesn’t trust those above them, the likelihood of it trickling downward is unlikely.

Consider a Trial Period or Continuing Education

Engineers are an innately creative group of people. While they can be fantastic individual contributors and learners, engineers aren’t always tailored to management roles. Even someone with an outgoing personality and technical know-how isn’t always ideal for a management position, and thus, you may want to employ a trial period or continuing education as a means of support.

As a business owner or upper management, you shouldn’t craft such a program to breed fear or uncertainty. It’s more about lending support, tools, and information to a manager and seeing how they approach people management and operations management.

If they pass through the trial phase, continuing education can promote leadership ideals and professional development that can create an even more effective manager. While you’ll have to decide the length of the trial period on your own, don’t panic if an engineering manager doesn’t hit it out of the park immediately. Remember—they’re an engineer first and a manager second—at least at the onset of accepting the role.

Allow Time for the Transition

Once you’ve provided the support necessary for an engineering manager to succeed, pump the brakes. Organizational learning is one thing, but the transition between learning and doing is something else entirely.

Patience is crucial in an engineering manager training program. You may want to see immediate results, but this isn’t always realistic. Give them time to adjust, and you just may find that you’re giving them the time to succeed.

What You Can Do as a New Engineering Manager for a Successful Start

A manager and an employee working together

If you’ve decided that an engineering management role is the next step on your career path, more power to you! It’s a great profession for someone who wants to take on more responsibility and importance beyond traditional management roles.

After preparing for the interview and landing this coveted position, you may not know what to do next. While you have the knowledge of the framework and inner workings of the company, translating that knowledge into a successful management career is intimidating. However, you can use a few of these ideas to get you right where you need to be—a trusted manager that leads a high-performance team.

Things To Do Right Out of the Gate

Hopefully, your engineering manager training should help you define your management role, but you still need to make a concerted effort to deliver in your new position. Here’s a quick checklist to get you started:

  • If you’re a first-time manager, learn about management principles and other tips that can get you ready for tough decisions and scenarios.
  • Ask questions. Whether you’re talking to a junior engineer about system design or Amazon Web Services or upper management about expectations, the more questions you ask, the more you can define your role and how a company functions on a daily basis.
  • Schedule a meeting with your new staff. Introducing yourself to the staff can make your team feel more at ease, but you can also learn about who you’re working with. This can also give you some insight into the personalities of your staff and how they interact with each other.
  • Set up a weekly or biweekly sync with each of your direct reports to stay in tune with how they are doing and how you can support them.
  • Ask for feedback. Even in the initial stages of your management role, getting feedback is crucial to your success. You can even take this one step further by asking for input from your staff on a particular project.
  • Practice strong communication. Whether you’re managing a remote team, a hybrid team, or a fully onsite team, use all of your tools to make communication clear and transparent. This will avoid any issues moving forward, especially if you put a high priority on this from the onset.

Consider a Certificate Program, Engineering Management Course, or Other Credential

While your firm will offer some level of support and engineering manager training, filling in some of the pieces lies on your shoulders. To gain an extra edge and gain the knowledge you need, consider certifications, credentials, or auxiliary engineering management courses.

Online learning platforms such as Udemy and Coursera are great places to start. They’re often free and can provide you with some of the basics of management and management tools. You may also want to consider some industry-recognized credentials that provide the knowledge you need to succeed in addition to your engineering manager training. Some options include:

  • Project Management Professional from the Project Management Institute
  • Master Project Manager from the American Academy of Project Management
  • Certified Manager from the Institute of Certified Professional Managers

You can also choose from world-class, industry-specific certifications depending on your discipline:

  • Software Engineering Manager Certification from various providers
  • Certified Information Technology Professional from various organizations
  • Certified Construction Manager from the Construction Management Association
  • Certified Chemical Engineer from the National Certification Commission in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Extra Credentials

Though you likely already have a bachelor’s degree in engineering or an equivalent field, you may want to inquire if your employer will sponsor you for a master’s degree in management (MBA Program or Executive MBA Program). You might be surprised by how willing they are to pay for your education.

Engineering Leaders

Manager leading a meeting

Engineering manager training is a vital starting point for any engineering firm or aspiring engineering manager. However, the end game isn’t just creating a manager, it’s transitioning an engineer and manager into a leader.

Leaders aren’t forged overnight, and even the best management training can’t necessarily generate a leader. It’s something that takes time and outside perspective. That’s when leadership coaching becomes a great asset.

Through leadership coaching and training programs, a manager becomes more than just a figurehead—they build the trust of employees through emotional intelligence, empathy, motivation, and inspiration. If you feel as though your engineering manager training program is stagnating, let Unicorn Labs’ leadership training programs navigate the often murky waters of engineering management itself. The only thing you have to lose is a more effective, efficient, and cohesive team.

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