The Road to a Management/Leadership Track in the Engineering Field
January 27, 2014

Unlike many of the career paths that we have discussed thus far, this track is only destined for a small minority. I’m sure many of you have heard of “the Peter Principle” – that one is only promoted to one’s highest level of incompetence. In other words, a person is promoted because he or she is good at the current job he or she holds, and is further promoted until he or she is no longer good at a job and stops getting promoted. This seems to happen all too often in the engineering field. Good technical engineers are promoted into management or leadership roles only to find that they prefer doing the technical work and are not good at overseeing a large group of people or setting the direction and vision of their firm. So how do you determine early on that a management/leadership career path might be right for you one day? Let’s look at a few common traits of managers/leaders:

• Strong communication skills – The ability to convey information effectively to people from all backgrounds and technical areas.
• Business acumen – One who has a penchant toward business and sees the bigger picture.
• People person – The ability to relate well and be respected and revered by peers and subordinates.
• Ability to multitask and handle stress under fire – An individual who comes out calm, cool, and collected in high-stress situations.
• Confident decision maker – One capable of problem solving and exuding clear thought in matters of all levels of importance.
• Team player – A true leader/manager is one who knows there is no “I’ in teamwork.

Now this list is not all-encompassing and only touches on a few traits that are common for a strong manager and leader. For all of you who are interested in pursuing a track in this direction, start small by first taking on a project as a project manager or managing a part-time employee or intern. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” so taking a small amount of management and leadership experience gradually and building on that over the course of your career is the best course of action and the best way to learn how to be a successful leader.

Achieving a management and/or leadership position takes career-long training to foster and mentor an individual toward success in such a role.

What can you do to prepare yourself for a management/leadership position?
• Take a business class. Many leaders and managers have a strong foundation in business, strategic planning, financials and people management skills. You may also consider continuing on to get your MBA.
• Ask to be taken under the wing of a mentor or an established leader to be trained and guided toward your path. Many of the best leaders have learned from on-the-job training and have been groomed over the years on the job to become successful leaders.
• Observe and take a lot of notes from the leaders whom you admire. As the saying goes, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and in this case the imitation of the traits and skills of a well-respected leader can be a valuable training tool for someone wanting to learn about leadership.
• In some companies, employees are offered a management or leadership training program. Seek out programs like this and volunteer for as many activities, promotions, or projects as you can to help you gain experience in this area.

For all of you aspiring managers and leaders out there, your journey toward one day running your own business or serving as the executive vice president has just begun. Enjoy the journey, as one day down the road you will look back at your career path and know that the small steps you took along the way are what set you up for success.

Rachel Cantor Fogarty is president of RC Associates, an engineering recruiting firm, which provides retained recruiting services to growing engineering companies nationwide. For more information, visit or contact Rachel at or 813-286-2075.