In the engineering field, evaluations are usually done on technical skills, not other skills, such as project or people management. As we enter a new decade, however, engineering project management is becoming a necessity for engineers to take their careers to the next level. Engineers who invest in perfecting their project management skills often find they are given more responsibilities within the business.
Project management is essentially directing a team to accomplish milestones and follow performance expectations within a set time frame. For engineers, project management could include purchasing resources needed, cost management, and scheduling just to name a few. If done effectively, engineering project management ensures that the project is completed on time and within budget.
Engineering is a complex and ever-evolving industry, and new functional aspects are continuously being added to the process. As AI (Artificial Intelligence), IoT (Internet of Things), and IT/OT, in particular, become more prevalent in the engineering process, project management skills will become more significant in an engineer's role.
We spoke with the senior management team at CCS Automations, an Orlando-based Industrial Automation company that helps businesses install and maintain systems they need to operate timely and efficiently, to get their opinions on what skills are needed for engineers in the upcoming year. As a company that relies on its engineers to handle client-facing initiatives, it had a lot of great information to share.
Can an engineer become a project manager? Absolutely! If you're looking to attain a managerial position, you'll need to obtain your Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification to formalize the strategies you're already familiar with as an engineer. Skilled project managers are in high demand so set yourself apart by improving the following core skills that engineers need to be competitive:
Leadership encompasses a broad swath of associated capabilities that are required for the project management process. Fundamentally, every project involves a team. Through the project, the team dynamics fluctuate to meet the demands of the goals set in the initial scope of work and the associated variations in the scope that naturally occur. The Project Manager, as a part of their leadership role, is responsible for defining the scope, establishing tasks and goals, and assigning responsibility based on team member capabilities, and getting “buy-in” from all parties. Beyond the traditional operational management functions, leadership requires the ability to motivate, build trust, handle conflict, and make decisions on all issues that arise, including routine administrative/operational issues, emergency issues, and strategic issues.
Organization skills are a key skill set and essential for engineering projects. The Project Manager is responsible for organizing all aspects of the project and presenting the organizational plan in a structured manner that can be assimilated by all parties with responsibilities towards the project completion. Without a structured organizational plan driven by the Project Manager, an engineering project would be doomed from the start. As with leadership - the key component to this organizational skill is to get “buy-in” from all participants, which allows the project management process to be well defined and organized to move fluidly in a safe, productive, and predictive manner.
Communication is probably the most crucial skill-set an Engineering Project Manager should have to be successful with a project. For Engineering projects, communication skills start with a solid foundational knowledge of the technological field in which the project is set. Without this knowledge base, a Project Manager in an engineering environment cannot succeed. Communication in an engineering environment is a bi-directional function requiring the project manager to provide information and instruction outward while eliciting feedback/responses from all participants. Communication in this environment involves a large number of different types of project participants, each with a different set of requirements related to the project status at any given time. These include but are not limited to:
To support the needs of these many participants effectively, the ability to communicate the technical and process elements of the project in both technical and non-technical terms is essential and is often the difference between success or failure and profit or loss for any engineering project.
The key difference between the two is that engineering managers are in charge of people, while project managers oversee activities and tasks. For example, an engineering manager is in charge of supervising the team tasked with determining the structural integrity of a new apartment building. A project manager on the same project makes sure that all of the tasks are done on schedule and within budget.
Combine a strong project management skillset with powerful project management software to avoid the administrative chaos that plagues engineering teams. Even the best project managers need a platform to reduce the mundane tasks that can take up hours, which results in wasted time. The role of project management is often correlated with manual work, but this doesn't have to be the case. As mentioned before, the engineering industry is constantly changing, but engineers can better cope with this by becoming better project managers and investing in an automation platform that they know will make their jobs easier.
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