What You Should Know About Engineering Leadership Development Programs

Traditionally, stereotypically, and somewhat unfairly, engineers aren’t synonymous with great leadership or management. Numerous reasons underscore the lack of adequate management throughout this industry, but scarcity in professional development opportunities, mentorship programs, and overall career development are at the forefront.

Other theories point to a lack of training in the college of engineering compared to business schools, poor guidance in early careers, and certificate programs that put a premium on advanced engineering rather than leadership skills.

Despite an uphill battle, engineering leaders can still emerge with the right mix of leadership training, fundamentals, and initiatives. Organizations just need to put a premium on proven results.

Engineering leadership development programs have become more common to harness the managerial potential and soft skills of those within the engineering industry over the years. Empowering a new generation of engineers to embrace management and leadership roles, engineering leadership development programs take applicable engineering skills, pair them with managerial theories, and help engineers make breakthroughs in leadership.

If your engineering department flounders, stagnates, or needs direction, a leadership development program could be just what’s required to amend the situation. Find out how one of these programs — internally or externally — can pair with existing training and fresh initiatives to solve one of engineering’s greatest problems: Who will lead?

What Is an Engineering Leadership Development Program?

An onsite engineer holding a tablet and dressed in protective gear

An engineering leadership development program — also known as an engineering leadership program — is a course, retreat, or seminar where engineers learn leadership principles, soft skills, and other useful management ideas. Though some companies are beginning to understand the importance of management and leadership training, engineering firms often rely on external leadership development programs to guide engineers into management roles.

Most engineering leadership development programs don’t dive into specific subsets of engineering (mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, etc.); team members should already have a firm grasp of these. Instead, these development programs focus on topics and complementary skills that build upon what an engineer already knows through experience and education.

What Makes Engineering Leadership Development More Difficult?

Engineering leadership is in short supply for multiple reasons. It’s not taught in business school, yet managers and leaders still need a strong understanding of engineering practices. Moreover, leaders are at a premium in an industry that has notoriously lacked skilled labor and quality career development practices.

The disconnect between leadership and engineering professionals can create issues within a department that lead to increased employee turnover, a lackluster company culture, or poor employee engagement. Due to the shortfall of engineering leadership courses and training, engineers must develop tertiary skills beyond their bachelor’s degree and experience.

And that’s just what engineering leadership development programs aim to fix — adding interpersonal skills, coaching, and applicable ideas that can transform an engineer into a leader.

Interestingly, many of these leadership skills are familiar to engineers of all experience levels — achieving them is well within reach. Engineers regularly practice critical thinking, analytics, problem-solving, and project management — aspects that are all part of an engineering leadership development program.

With the right program and initiatives from the business side — such as continued training and mentoring programs — engineers have all the tools they need to succeed as leaders on high-performing teams.

How Engineering Leadership Development Program Target Tomorrow’s Leaders

To some degree, the leadership qualities in the engineering field are akin to leadership in other industries. Communication skills, emotional intelligence, accountability, and a positive attitude are just a few of the skills necessary to become an effective leader.

Some of the courses or seminars in engineering leadership development programs might be rudimentary to workers in business-related jobs. But without a firm foundation, engineers don’t have the building blocks to succeed as a manager or leader.

According to one study, nearly 80% of employees eventually quit their jobs due to a perceived lack of appreciation. A lack of leadership in engineering may even drive this percentage higher, costing a company tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Engineering leadership development programs take the idea of leadership and specifically cater it to the engineering field. While the program will certainly discuss management and leadership principles, it also dives into ideas that can aid an engineering department in employee retention, listening skills, and more. Furthermore, programs can dive into specific aspects of engineering leadership and management, such as sustainability, product development, project management, and more.

Why Engineering Leadership Is Integral to Your Business

An engineer hholding a pencil and making adjustments to a blueprint

Engineering leadership is the force that propels your company to succeed in a task or project. However, engineering has highly specialized team members and job roles. As such, a successful manager in another field may not have the technical knowledge or expertise to ensure the project comes to fruition — on time and on budget.

In all likelihood, your organization has a charismatic and talented engineer who’s ideal for a management position. Engineering leadership development programs allow them to reach their full potential.

Engineering leaders are apt to understand the complex processes of a product and the client's specifications. But beyond that, they master the innate abilities to lead in an engineering atmosphere. Some benefits of a highly trained leader within the engineering field include:

  • Risk assessment
  • Strong communication channels between engineers, clients, and stakeholders
  • Commitment to team members, products, and OKRs
  • Training and knowledge in specific engineering fields (cybersecurity, software engineering, systems engineering, electrical engineering, etc.) that allows them to confidently discuss projects and tasks with all relevant parties
  • Delegation of tasks to the appropriate parties
  • Realistic budgets and deadlines with task prioritization
  • Environment creation that streamlines project completion in an open, enthralling, and supportive atmosphere

Concepts and Competencies Learned in an Engineering Leadership Development Program

Unless you send your team members back to undergraduate or graduate school, you can adapt most engineering leadership development programs to your needs and engineering subset specifications. But at its core, engineering leadership programs will provide your workers with a number of easy-to-apply principles that can guide them to the next level of management and leadership expertise. Here are some of the most important.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are tantamount to success in a dynamic global business world. The idea is no different in engineering. Engineers come from various backgrounds, making multicultural awareness all the more important. The more a potential leader learns about managing and leading people from other cultures, the more cohesive, open, and trusting a team can become.


Sustainability is an engineering tenet that’s become integral in the face of rising temperatures and carbon emissions. Though a company’s social responsibility outreach and initiatives are crucial to sustainability, engineering leadership development programs can teach engineers how to communicate their sustainable ideas and concerns.

An engineering leader who prioritizes sustainability isn’t just creating a better tomorrow. They’re planting the seeds of sustainability within workers that can inspire team members, attract fresh talent, and even gain the respect and business of more customers.

Grow Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal or social skills enable engineering leaders and managers to connect with people in every corner of the organization. Unfortunately, the analytical and DIY minds and backgrounds of engineering — even if stereotypical — can hinder the development of these skills.

Through an engineering leadership development program, engineers can learn the foundations and importance of interpersonal skills and how to apply them daily or over the long run. Some interpersonal skills pertinent to engineering leadership include:

  • Adaptability
  • Collaboration
  • Written and oral communication
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Creativity and/or motivating creativity

Through these skills, leaders create a transformative atmosphere that’s not merely a workplace but an incubator for innovation and ideas.


The self-aware manager leads by example. They never expect workers to do something they wouldn’t do themselves nor would they implement a “do what I say, not as I do” style of management.

However, an engineer can reach this pinnacle of leadership only through self-management and self-awareness. An engineering leadership development program demonstrates how engineers can manage themselves in difficult situations, whether managing conflict, working on a project, or handling clientele.

Business Acumen

Engineers have no background in business — or at least that’s the overarching idea that’s accepted in many circles. Yet a lack of business acumen isn’t a nail in the coffin. Engineers tend to be a smart bunch, so business concepts and ideas shouldn’t seem foreign.

At a leadership development program, engineers can learn basic business ideas that can dictate their decisions or vision for the future. With an understanding of fiscal planning, business strategies, management skills, and how to exert influence in a business setting, engineers can set themselves up for success.

Use Leadership Development To Evolve Your Best and Brightest Into Successful Managers

Three engineers looking inside a car

The engineering industry isn’t the only field requiring a specific leadership approach. However, companies must buy into the idea that an investment in the team through engineering leadership development programs only improves the team and organization as a whole.

Future leaders aren’t born; they’re forged from experience, expertise, and learning. For companies that fail to realize this, problems are almost certain to arise or reappear repeatedly. Don’t ignore the signs. Discover how Unicorn Labs customizable leadership program can solve some of the issues your business faces — it’s one of the best decisions you can make — even with a high-functioning and high-performing engineering firm.

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