Why Engineers Make Great Business Leaders

Why Engineers Make Great Business Leaders

During the initial consideration of the roles of engineers and business leaders, you will see two very different specialist areas. However, if you delve a little deeper, you’ll find there are a number of overlapping attributes and experiences that make Engineers great business leaders.

Powerful engineers and business leaders acquire a like-minded approach to finding advanced solutions, improving processes, and maximising efficiencies.

Although the day-to-day work of an engineer is different from most business leaders, the skills and knowledge obtained from studying and experiencing the specialist field can effectively transfer to leadership careers surprisingly well. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that more than 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs have an engineering degree.

We’ve spent time researching into the two roles, to understand how and why engineering professionals can make the best business leaders.


5 board game pawns positioned in a 'V' shape. A hand is about to pick up the pawn at the point of the 'V'.



Proactive Project Planning and Excellent Time Management Skills

Engineers by nature are methodical, analytical, and detail-oriented people. Throughout their years of practical and theoretical training, they’re required to have excellent discipline and time management skills to comply with strict deadlines, research efficiently and identify valuable solutions that adhere to industry compliance and legislation.


A person leaning over a table, measuring plans.


The vast sum of money consumed by engineering departments requires professionals with the competent ability to manage the finer details and work collaboratively with various departments to ensure a consistent, productive, and economical operation.

Those who succeed in this area and align with workplace best practices will find the transition into a leadership role pretty straightforward.


Tenacious, Strong Willed, and Active Problem Solvers

Engineers are constantly presented with pushback and strong opinions that a product won’t work, or the market doesn’t require it. The natural instinct of an engineer is to solve ‘impossible’ problems and find the appropriate solutions.


A row of lettered dice lined up to spell "Impossible". A hand is turning the second die to spell "It's possible".


Having a compelling approach to problem-solving is an essential attribute for any successful and influential leader – they need sheer determination to keep the business moving forward, overcome challenges, and solidify the company’s position as a leader of innovation.


Profound Technical Understanding

The ever-developing business world is becoming more technical in nature than we’ve ever known it, which positions Engineers in great stead – they truly understand the nitty-gritty of every technical aspect.

Engineering knowledge encourages a thorough and technical review process throughout each stage of a development project, from concept to completion which makes them some of the most critical assets to any manufacturing business.

Imagine having that level of knowledge, when it comes to implementing a stringent strategy and leading an engineering or manufacturing business.


A person sat at a computer with technical software open.



Understand That Details Matter

Engineers not only strive for perfection in design and product development but also for end-user purposes, they need to ensure the product will enhance the function of the application it’s used in. In doing so, they will work closely with the client to understand the fine details.

The quality and parameters the product functions to is a key objective for both engineers and business leaders – their customer satisfaction and recommendations are essential for a company to continue with its growth projection.


A graph showing exponential growth. A hand is placing block on the graph to symbolising building growth.



Inability To Shift Blame

Like all professionals, Engineers take great pride in their work; it signifies their reputation.

Throughout each stage of a product development project, a specialist team will focus solely on certain areas, before testing can begin. If an issue is identified, the area of malfunction can be easily found, which usually falls within the scope of a specific engineer or team – no ability to shift blame.


Two professionals sat opposite each other. One is pointing their pen in the direction of the other who is upset.


You’ll tend to find, with strong values, engineers are determined to get it right. Similarly, is that of a business leader, if you’re at the top, where do you portion blame? It’s your responsibility to get things right, take accountability and instil that in department heads.


Bridging the Gap Between an Engineer and Business Leader

Engineers hoping to take the next step into a leadership position, whether that be operations, R&D or as an MD, will be required to brush up on their knowledge of other business areas, such as marketing, purchasing, sales, HR, finance, and legal compliance.

Spending time away from the engineering department, will bridge knowledge gaps, broaden horizons, encourage an understanding of the full operation, and provide familiarity with diverse team members, their skills and mindsets.

As a new leader you have to gain trust and buy-in from your stakeholders, so another essential area to work on is emotional intelligence. The most successful leaders have a high level of this and are able to flexibly adapt to situations with varying groups or individuals.


An infographic showing emotional intelligence consists of social skills, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and motivation.



Key Shifts That Turn Good Engineers into Great Leaders

Granted, engineers do tend to veer towards certain personality traits and work styles that make the transition from a solitary individual-thinker to a motivating team leader that bit more challenging. But, when stepping into a new leadership role with the same tenacity and curiosity of the engineering mindset, they thrive.

If you’re an engineer transitioning into a leadership role, here are a couple of shifts you must make to secure your footing as a trusted leader:


Let go of control

As an effective leader, micromanagement doesn’t work and equally, you don’t have the time.

You need to allow your engineers to be innovative, think outside of the box and if you’re too close to the project or giving immediate direction, you may risk losing them as they need the creative freedom and trust to flourish.

Your scope on any project, new development or product now needs to expand wider than the technical capabilities, consider company goals, cost, quality, resources, and the current market. “Being right” and “letting go of control” must reflect the big picture. If there are multiple ways to achieve the outcome or solution, your job is to consider all of them.


Provide encouragement and clear communication

You need to keep your team in the loop with company updates and essential changes, this will ensure they’re engaged and working as one.

It’s vital to remember that each member of your team require different ways of encouragement and support. Take the time to understand what makes them tick, then devise the best strategy and adapt your approach for each team member. You need to ensure each individual feels valued, works effectively, and the project and company goals are aligned and on track.


Even with the benefits of transferable skills, why would engineers be tempted to move into such a different line of work than the one they trained for? While most engineers are paid well, successful business leaders are often paid significantly more. Not only this but also, many want to expand to their knowledge, share it and lead a successful business or department.


Get In Touch

If you want to discuss the executive opportunities out there, or are looking to hire, please contact Managing Partner Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or l.bhandal@parkinsonlee.com

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