This is a collaborative post by Carol about transitioning careers.
One of the biggest advantages of getting an engineering degree is that it’s a very flexible qualification. There is a lot more you can do with your qualification combined with hands-on engineering experience than simply the problem solving and engineering work that you are used to.
And, even when moving up into more business-oriented and management positions in engineering, the good part is that you do not need to give up the STEM aspects of your career.
In fact, those who have worked as an engineer often make the best engineering or project managers simply because they not only understand all the management aspects of the job, but also the engineering side, which gives them a better advantage when it comes to connecting with their team.
Higher-level positions in the industry such as project management give engineering the opportunity to gain new skills while working directly on engineering projects, along with being one of the best opportunities to move up in your chosen career.
What Does an Engineering Project Manager Do?
Project managers work in a wide range of industries including engineering, construction, software, IT, and more. The project manager plays a hugely important role in any engineering project since they are responsible for the planning, oversight, and completion.
A project manager is also responsible for overseeing workers, making sure that the project is kept within the budget, and working out the schedule. Project managers keep the project moving forward, which is crucial, as without the right planning and execution, unexpected problems can easily hold up a project which could lead to a reduction in efficiency or even the failure of the project overall.
While project management is a job that’s heavily involved in planning and oversight, project managers are often required to be excellent problem-solvers, which is why so many engineers will naturally gravitate to this position. Project managers are responsible for process development, which means solving complex problems to ensure that each project is successfully completed on time and within budget in an efficient and streamlined manner.
The project manager is responsible for conducting risk assessments and developing contingency plans to ensure that solutions to each potential problem are found and any unnecessary expenses or delays to completion are avoided.
What Skills Do Project Managers Need?
Many of the skills required to become a successful project manager are possessed by good engineers. Project management is no easy task, and a manager needs to have excellent analytical skills in order to succeed. However, engineers may need to consider developing their management and people skills in order to truly succeed in this role.
As a project manager, you are no longer simply responsible for your own work, but you will also be tasked with managing a team and interacting with a wide range of different people every day. An MBA with a focus on engineering is a great qualification to consider if you are an engineer looking to improve your business and people skills in order to get into project management; find out more about this degree and how it could benefit you.
Some of the most important skills to develop if you are an engineer looking to get into project management include:
You will need to be a strong leader who is able to understand and work collaboratively with different people who may have various personality styles. You will need to be open-minded and open to getting to know people as individuals in order to figure out where they work best so that you can determine where they are best placed on your team. You should be somebody who is inspiring, leads by example, and motivates your team members to succeed.
As a project manager, communication skills are even more important to you now as they were when you were an engineer. Working as a project manager means that you will be tasked with communicating instructions to teams and ensuring that everybody understands clearly.
And, you will also be regularly communicating with clients, stakeholders, business leaders, and others who might not understand the technical side of things, which is why it is essential to be able to simplify often highly technical information into something that is easy for anybody to understand. You will also need to develop effective listening skills.
Time and Resource Management:
Project managers are responsible for overseeing the project and ensuring that it is completed within the given time-frame. Because of this, you will need to develop excellent time management skills to ensure that you are able to effectively plan the project from the start and ensure that it is on track to be completed with time to spare.
You’ll also need to be able to manage a wide range of resources necessary to ensure that the project is a success including financial resources and materials that you and your team are provided with to complete the project.
A strong engineering project manager understands that sometimes things do not always go to plan. Because of this, flexibility is an important skill to develop as being able to adapt quickly when needed will help your projects stay on track.
Being fearful of change will quickly hold a project manager back as it is not always guaranteed that any project will go as expected and sometimes, external circumstances mean making changes to the project on the fly. You will need to be able to think on your feet and adapt quickly, often under pressure.
Adding these skills to your list of skills as an engineer will not only help you transition into project management from engineering but can benefit you in many other ways. These are skills that are not only essential to have in an engineering project management position, but they can also be transferred across a range of disciplines.
They can not only help you become more successful in your engineering role but might also help you become a more attractive candidate for engineering management and other career advancement opportunities. Finally, these transferable skills can be applied in a huge range of different industries so they can come in handy if you decide to completely change your career and explore something new.
Why Switch from Engineering to Project Management?
Engineers and project managers work closely together, so it’s no surprise that engineers who want to get into the management and people-oriented side of things often end up taking this route. And one of the most obvious advantages of taking the project management route is financial. In the US, the median salary for mechanical engineers is around $124,000, however, in comparison, project managers can often earn a much higher average.
Career opportunities with a wider variety of choices also tend to be another key driver for engineers looking to move into something new. Learning the required skills to become a successful project manager and improving your qualifications through an MBA after qualifying as an engineer not only helps you get into more higher-up careers in the engineering industry, but can also help you facilitate a career change and become a more desirable candidate in a wide variety of different industries, opening up more opportunities to try something new.
Finally, project management is an exciting and constantly changing field; something that is a requirement for many engineers who are seeking a career where they can learn something new and has little risk of getting stuck in the same job on a daily basis.
Over the past ten years, the project management career path has changed substantially to become more focused on the big picture and a lot more client-centered. Competition is fiercer than ever before and it has become more and more important for project managers to ensure that the client gets a good experience.
Because of this, it has become more important than ever for engineering firms to ensure that their projects stay within budget and on schedule while keeping the client’s requirements and preferences at the forefront of the work.
Today’s project managers need to be highly responsive professionals who have the ability to view the project from the perspective of the client in order to ensure that their goals and needs can be met as efficiently as possible.
Who is a Good Fit for Project Management?
Bear in mind that not all engineers are suited to project management. You may have excellent technical skills, but this does not always mean that you will make the best manager – and that’s fine, since there is always going to be a growing demand for technical experts with your skill-set.
After all, no engineering project can be successfully completed without the engineers themselves. However, if you are an engineer who is ready to do something new, want to improve your people skills, take on new responsibilities and enjoy professional growth in a different direction, project management could be an ideal choice for you.
Some engineers are more suited to the technical side of things, while others make excellent project managers. If you want to move from technical work to a more management-based, business-centered, and people-oriented way of work, this could be the ideal way to advance your engineering career.