Engineers are typically excellent technical subject matter experts. However, many tend to be weak on interpersonal skills and business knowledge. This can force them onto a steep learning curve when they’re promoted from senior engineer to management. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make the process easier as well as improve the odds you get that promotion. Let’s learn how to move from engineering to management and executive positions.

Expand Your Knowledge Base

Don’t limit your reading to industry and technical journals. Read about sales, marketing, business finance, and human resources. If you don’t understand at least something about these things, you’ll struggle to move beyond a technical role and into management. 

The hard part for many engineers is getting the education they need in this area in as efficient a way as possible. One solution is to get a master’s degree from an institution like Kettering University Online. Kettering University Online has an MS in engineering management degree that teaches:

  • Financial management
  • Human resource management
  • Marketing
  • Enterprise information system modeling
  • International business

This gives students a deep dive into each of these subject areas that are almost necessities in modern business, but you won’t waste time reading material that doesn’t benefit you in some way.

The best part about it is that you won’t have to leave your current position to do so. You’ll get the exact set of skills as you would through any other program, and will be able to get your credentials much faster.

Another benefit of online classes is that you’ll have the chance to meet with people from different industries and many international students as well. Having the chance to build this type of international network could open you up to emerging markets and opportunities. This could change your whole perspective of a region, and give you a chance to make a difference as well. 

Your experience as a manager could be much more valuable in certain markets, and help you reach more lucrative and higher positions. You’ll then have this expertise under your belt, which could allow you to find work as an executive later on.

Start Your Own Business

If you want to know the fastest way to become an executive, it’s simple. Start your own business and make yourself one. Engineer business owners are all over Silicon Valley and the world. Having an engineering management formation could also be a great way to prepare you to run your own operation. Here are some common business sectors for engineers:

  • Consulting
  • Smart product design
  • Training
  • Teaching
  • Writing and research

One of the most popular businesses for engineering is consulting, and your primary job as a consultant is to be a problem solver. You might decide to work as a technical consultant and work with companies to solve technical problems, improve technical capabilities, or develop or improve existing or new products, or you might be asked to advise on big projects and look for potential issues. However, being a consultant involves a lot of research, and you’ll have to be able to use data analysis to come up with concrete solutions.

You also need to have a set of interpersonal skills if you want to be able to get your point across. For one, you will need to have great communication and analytical skills. You also need to be good at vulgarization as you’ll often have to speak with entire teams and be able to simplify complex ideas to people on the floor.

Smart product design is another sector that is bound to explode in the coming years. With the coming of the IoT, there will be a lot of demand for all sorts of smart devices ranging from sensors, wearable devices, and reporting tools. As a matter of fact, it is estimated that the IoT sector will reach a whopping 300 billion per year this year. 

Another area where there is and will be demand is in the training, tech and writing sector. Engineering journals of all sorts are constantly looking for writers with a fresh perspective on the industry. The Maker Movement and the IoT are also factors contributing to the trend towards engineering education. There is more interest than ever for the engineering sector, and more people wanting to enter the field, which could be another great opportunity.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Learn how to write clearly and argue your points clearly and concisely. This will help you whether you’re arguing for better pay or defending your decisions. Master this and build up your confidence, and it will be much easier to sell yourself when you apply for a new job, including in management.

Communication is ironically one of the most important skills that you need as an engineer, but one where many engineers struggle the most. However, know that great communicators don’t necessarily have to be born. “You’ll have to learn as you go,” said experiential lab supervisor Brandon Graham. “I always wanted to join different clubs. And the only way to do so was to become more social.”

Also, take the time to talk to your manager about your career ambitions. Learn what the company wants to see in potential managers. You may need to take on additional work or improve certain skill sets before you’re considered qualified. Or, you may learn that moving into management requires giving up what you love to do. Then you won’t get a promotion before deciding you don’t like the job.

Develop Core Skills

In addition to communication, there are tons of core skills that will be essential if you want to reach a higher position. Here are some examples:

  • Presentation skills
  • Selling
  • Networking skills
  • Creating a brand
  • Negotiation

Negotiation is one of the most overlooked, but important skills you’ll want to develop if you want to advance your career. If you’re a rookie, you can’t negotiate a salary raise right away, but you could always try to parlay your way in a position that would give you more responsibilities and a better salary in the future. And by filling this role, you’ll become more valuable to the company, which will give you leverage when the time comes to negotiate your salary later on.

Another thing you’ll have to be able to do is sell yourself and show that you are not just another face in the crowd. That means not only being able to show what differentiates you but gaining expertise and experience in as many fields as possible.

Presentation skills are also essential if you want to move as a leader. You may have the best ideas in the world, but if you can present them in a concise way to a group of decision-makers, your value will be diminished.

You also have to be able to build some personality traits as well. For instance, a little bit of humility will go a long way. Overconfidence is one of the worst traits that you can have as an engineer. It can lead to stubbornness, and ultimately, failure. Humility will allow you to seek help when you need, learn, and be willing to accept other points of views as well. Consensus building is another very skill that all leaders need, so make sure that you try to be more conciliant, and respect everyone’s opinion while offering your own insight.

Practice Being a Leader

Volunteer to head a design team instead of just being a member of it. This is good practice for leading larger groups, and it shows management that you’re interested in managing people.

There are other subtle things you may need to do to become more like a leader. These include:

  • Being a motivator
  • Mentor others
  • Dressing for the part you want
  • Acting confident
  • Practice diplomacy rather than power

Consider doing all of the above as you take on the difficult projects or problems no one else wants to do. When you succeed, especially if you seemed to have been certain you’d achieve it, many will see you as a natural leader. That is especially true if you organized a team that you coached from start to finish, solving the problem no one else would tackle.

Get In Front Of Management

A good way to lay the foundation to promotion to management is to get in front of management:

  • Present your team’s findings to your boss
  • Be the one to argue for a particular technical solution in a department meeting
  • Join cross-functional teams
  • Attend sales meetings with clients as the engineering representative
  • Give educational presentations at work

This demonstrates to management that you have good communication and leadership skills.

Or you could offer to head a team to solve problems management has discussed. Then you’re the natural choice for heading that team, and you’ll get bonus points if you volunteer for that extra job. Take on larger tasks that higher-ups consider important, and you’ll be on the fast track to management yourself.

Engineers can make good managers. However, they need to cultivate the skill sets and mindset required to do well in the role.