Engineers use science and math to solve problems and invent new technologies, products, and structures. Creating software, electronic devices, machinery, and infrastructure all require engineers to design, develop, and test for quality.
Projects that are large in scope generally involve a collection of engineers working together to produce the individual elements that combine to achieve an overall goal. For instance, the space shuttle was the sum of many different elements, including electrical systems, hardware, and aeronautics. For a project to succeed, engineers must work in concert on complicated and interconnected systems.
Engineering managers are often instrumental in projects such as these. Leveraging their leadership and experience, managers guide engineering projects through their many phases to completion — on time and on budget.
Managers for engineering projects use well-developed soft skills to empower and inspire their team members to reach a common goal. Behind every great piece of infrastructure or new tech development is a manager leading a team of devoted engineers.
Those who are interested in becoming an engineering manager need to develop the skills and knowledge base required to lead. Gaining the right combination of experience and education, such as by earning an online Master’s in Engineering Management, can help engineers learn how to oversee the large-scale projects that fuel innovation.
Engineering Manager: Job Description
An engineering manager’s job description often depends on which field of engineering they work in, and there are many.
- Civil engineering pertains to the design and construction of infrastructure such as bridges, railroads, and tunnels.
- Aerospace engineering involves the design, construction, and testing of air- and spacecraft.
- Computer engineering entails the creation of hardware and software.
- Chemical engineering uses the principles of chemistry, math, biology, and physics to design and manufacture chemicals.
- Electrical engineering involves the design, testing, and production of devices and systems that use electricity.
- Industrial engineering focuses on production and service operations and systems in industries such as manufacturing, transportation, and distribution.
Although different in many respects, all of these fields fall under the umbrella of engineering because they use mathematical and scientific principles to address problems and devise solutions.
The day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a civil engineer will vary from those of an aerospace engineer because their projects are so different. But what remains consistent is that every engineering project — regardless of the field — is a series of steps in a process that is intended to accomplish an overall goal.
Engineering Design Process
The engineering design process consists of a series of steps that allows engineers to find a solution for a problem or to meet a particular objective, according to the research and technology organization TWI. That objective could be anything from building a bridge to creating a new piece of software. An engineering manager oversees the process and supports their team as they progress.
TWI breaks down the engineering design process as follows:
- Identify the problem
- Devise solutions with a brainstorming session
- Develop a list of ideas and possible solutions
- List project constraints and criteria
- Identify potential alternative solutions
- Choose an approach
- Create a proposal for the design
- Construct a prototype or model
- Evaluate and test the prototype or model
- Refine the prototype or model
- Based upon improvements, develop a final plan
- Document and communicate results
A manager can apply the engineering design process to virtually any type of project, because it breaks down a complex problem into manageable steps.
Engineering Manager Job Duties and Responsibilities
Engineering managers oversee and support teams of engineers on a given project through the planning, development, and execution stages. They typically work for engineering companies or for corporations that specialize in designing and testing products.
Due to differences among industries and the varying scope of projects, the job description of an engineering manager isn’t universal. However, a core set of duties and responsibilities are widely shared. They include:
- Leading the research and development process for new products and designs
- Determining what resources are needed to complete the project (e.g., staff, equipment)
- Hiring and supervising engineering staff
- Creating a budget proposal
- Checking engineers’ work for accuracy
- Ensuring the team is working efficiently and adhering to the established timeline
- Leading meetings with staff (e.g., weekly stand-up meetings, one-on-one meetings)
- Coordinating with other managers
- Helping engineers run tests and troubleshoot prototypes
- Ensuring that engineers have a safe working environment
- Communicating with stakeholders about the progress of the project
- Evaluating the performance of engineers and aiding their development
- Building technical documentation and project road maps
While no two days are alike for engineering managers, according to the global freelance agency Toptal, their daily workload is generally divided into four main categories:
- Technical: Although engineering managers typically don’t do as much hands-on technical work as the engineers they oversee, they need to serve as a readily available resource that helps their team overcome issues. This may entail resolving a technical issue, such as cleaning up code.
- Managerial: The managerial responsibilities of an engineering manager are similar in many ways to those of managers in any other industry. They’re in charge of training employees, evaluating their work and providing feedback, settling disputes, and serving as a mentor and coach. Additionally, managers are the driving force behind meeting project goals and keeping stakeholders informed about the status of the project.
- Recruiting: Managers need a talented workforce to help them bring a project to fruition. A big part of their job is finding the right people to fill out their team, which means they spend quite a bit of time recruiting. Managers are often responsible for writing job listings and posting them online. They also interview candidates for engineering positions.
- Administrative: Managers are also tasked with performing numerous administrative duties such as sending emails, attending conference calls, organizing and maintaining files, and managing their calendar.
It’s not uncommon for a manager to bounce from troubleshooting code to developing a project timeline to interviewing new engineers in the same week. Managers must be versatile and adaptable.
They also need to be capable of working in a wide variety of settings. Although many engineers work in offices, a manager’s work might require them to be on-site — which could be anywhere from a construction site to a research laboratory. The manufacturing sector is the largest employer of architectural and engineering managers, employing 34% of all managers, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
How to Become an Engineering Manager
Becoming a successful engineering manager requires both education and experience. Not only do managers need to be one of the most knowledgeable individuals on any given project, but they also need years of experience managing people and projects to be effective.
Engineering Manager Education
Engineering managers need at least a bachelor’s degree in an engineering specialty, along with considerable work experience, to qualify for the position, according to the BLS. Engineers who aspire to be managers can develop their managerial skills by completing a master’s degree in engineering management, technology management, or business administration.
Degree programs for engineering management feature relevant coursework on topics such as industrial and human resource management, quality control, financial management, and accounting, just to name a few. Indeed also notes that degree programs in technology management feature coursework in statistics, project management, quality control, and general management principles.
For those exploring how to become an engineering manager, it’s important to note there isn’t a one-size-fits-all career path. However, an advanced degree can help expand an aspiring manager’s knowledge and develop key managerial competencies. Many engineers interested in managerial careers pursue a Master of Science in Engineering.
Degree programs that include a management specialization usually have the added benefit of offering courses that focus on topics such as portfolio management and organizational behavior. This combination serves to deepen an individual’s understanding of engineering concepts while also developing their leadership skills — both of which are essential at the managerial level.
Engineering Manager Experience
Although a master’s degree will certainly help a candidate stand out to potential employers, engineers typically don’t enter a managerial role without significant work experience. According to Indeed, an engineer can benefit from internships and working on small projects, which help them gain experience and get industry exposure. After that, they can gain further experience on more complex projects where they build designs and/or write complicated code.
According to the BLS, developing the skills and knowledge needed for engineering management takes several years. Engineers usually become team leads before becoming managers. This gives them the chance to gain some experience making big decisions on projects and performing higher-profile tasks.
The path to becoming an engineering manager will be a bit different for everyone, considering the dynamics of each industry. But an advanced degree and considerable on-the-job experience working on complex, high-profile projects can help present a compelling package to employers. Education and experience are the foundational requirements for anyone interested in becoming a great manager.
What Are the Essential Engineering Manager Skills and Qualities?
To succeed, managers must develop a core set of proficiencies that will enable them to lead a team of engineers through the many phases of a complex project. The following are the most in-demand engineering manager skills and qualities, according to Indeed and the BLS:
- Analytical skills for complex problem-solving, checking others’ work, and evaluating information
- Coaching skills for giving constructive feedback to team members in a way that’s clear and helpful
- Well-developed communication and interpersonal skills (written and verbal) for interacting with engineers, project managers, and stakeholders, including communicating complex technical information in a way nonengineers can understand, and giving clear and concise directions or assigning tasks to their team
- Attention to detail for spotting errors — which can cause major complications — in code, documentation, or anything else they review
- Exceptional organizational skills for keeping track of budgets, timelines, and human resources
- Resilience for working well under pressure, which is crucial when solving problems and adapting to new developments at a moment’s notice
In addition to these skills, Indeed provides some best practices for engineering managers to follow to be effective in their position. They include:
- Leading by example so engineers know what’s expected of them, including by holding regular training sessions that target specific skills that will increase their team’s value and productivity
- Setting SMART goals for employees (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based)
- Keeping lines of communication open and maintaining an open-door policy to be accessible to their employees
- Empowering engineers to identify improvements
- Maintaining technical expertise by actively participating in engineering work when not performing their managerial duties
Developing these key skills and practices can help aspiring managers qualify for numerous opportunities at engineering companies in a variety of industries. Because of the extensive experience and comprehensive skill set required, engineering leadership roles often command competitive salaries.
Engineering Manager Salary and Job Outlook
The median annual salary for architectural and engineering managers was $152,350 in May 2021, according to the BLS, with the highest 10% earning upwards of $208,000. The BLS also breaks down median annual wages by industry. The top five industries by median salary were:
- Scientific research and development services — $187,200
- Management of companies and enterprises — $164,000
- Manufacturing — $151,900
- Architectural, engineering, and related services — $151,900
- Government — $135,150
When it comes to determining an engineering manager’s salary, experience, education, region, industry, and the specific employer all influence how much a manager makes. According to Payscale, the primary ways for an engineering manager to increase their earning potential include changing employers, earning an advanced degree, and expanding their managerial experience by taking on bigger projects and/or managing a larger team.
Payscale also notes the following skills can positively influence salary:
- Strategic planning
- Software development
- Product development
- People management
Job outlook is another area of interest for aspiring engineering managers. According to the BLS, the number of jobs for architectural and engineering managers is projected to grow by 4% between 2020 and 2030, with approximately 14,700 openings expected to be available each year, on average.
Employment growth is also determined by the needs of a specific industry. The BLS expects demand for civil engineers to rise due to the increased need to repair existing infrastructure. Demand for electrical and mechanical engineering services is also expected to increase, as wind turbine farms and other renewable energy sources become increasingly important. Projects in all of these fields require experienced engineering managers to oversee teams and meet objectives.
Become a Leader in an Important Field
Effective management is critical for engineering projects of any size in any industry. Massive endeavors such as spacecraft, electrical power grids, skyscrapers, and nuclear power plants are delivered on time and on budget due to the hard work of engineering managers and their diligent teams of engineers.
Companies and organizations will continue to require the unique talents and skills of engineers to innovate products and create solutions. By extension, managers who know how to run teams and communicate with stakeholders will always be in demand.
As you research how to become an engineering manager, you’ll find there isn’t one standardized process, but some key steps can improve your profile. One of these steps is investing in your education, and the University of California, Riverside’s online Master of Science in Engineering program — with its Engineering Management specialization — offers an ideal path to develop the knowledge base and in-demand skills a manager needs.
In addition to the program’s core coursework, Engineering Management students also take these specialization courses:
- Projects Portfolio Management
- Quality Management
- Engineering Economics
- Engineering Leadership and Organizational Behavior
Designed to meet students’ needs, UCR’s degree program is 100% online with no residency requirement, and can be completed in 13 months. Graduates will be able to apply for the most in-demand engineering jobs as early as next year. Take the first step to becoming a leader in engineering with the University of California, Riverside.