In a recent ASQ member survey, 69 percent of engineers feel that they have the leadership skills that provide a solid foundation for a successful CEO. According to the survey, engineers cite honesty (30 percent), communication skills (20 percent) and the ability to inspire or persuade others (14 percent) as the most important skills for an effective leader. What are the best ways for young people to develop these skills early? Engineers had the following advice to share with engineering students who are interested in leadership roles.
- BIG PICTURE THINKING: While thinking analytically will come naturally as part of an engineering education, students must also learn to focus on the big picture and how you and your team can bring value to your employer. An engineer leader doesn’t necessarily have to be the smartest person in the room but they need to be able to help others reach their potential and help their team achieve goals that they could not accomplish alone.
- COMMUNICATION SKILLS: Focus on strengthening all public communication skills including public speaking and writing. A great way to practice is to get involved in a professional organization to gain group leadership skills. It’s those engineers who can combine their problem-solving skills with persuasive communication that will end up in management positions. “An engineer provides data analysis, but an engineer leader persuades entire groups and organizations to take action based on that analysis,” says an ASQ member engineer.
- FIND A MENTOR: Look for someone in a leadership role that you admire and study them as much as possible. The best way to learn about leadership is by seeing it demonstrated in real life, not out of a book. “Always look to others who have integrity and respect for other people,” says an ASQ member engineer. “Find an individual who has the heart of a teacher and will spend the extra time to help you learn.”
- BUSINESS EDUCATION: Take business courses or consider getting a Master’s of Business Administration degree to improve your management and people skills beyond the more quantitative work completed in engineering courses. “Engineers tend to be too honest. They say what they think. CEOs say what needs to be heard,” notes one ASQ member engineer. “A business management degree can help mitigate this issue by training engineers to see multiple sides of an issue.” In fact, most engineers who responded to the ASQ survey said that if they could have taken only one non-engineering course that would have made a difference in attaining leadership skills, it would have been a business administration course.
- LIBERAL ARTS: The most effective leaders are well-rounded with interests beyond engineering. Try to find the opportunity at some point to take some liberal arts courses like English, foreign language, history and social sciences. As the world becomes more complex, engineers must appreciate more than ever the human dimensions of technology, have a grasp of global issues and be sensitive to cultural diversity.
- RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING: Building teams and cultivating relationships is a vital skill that engineer leaders need to have. Start early by taking on leadership roles in group projects and student organizations. This will help you to establish a better understanding with people in different disciplines so you can relate to the challenges others face and determine how your role interplays with theirs.
ASQ is a global community of people dedicated to quality who share the ideas and tools that make our world work better. With millions of individual and organizational members of the community in 150 countries, ASQ has the reputation and reach to bring together the diverse quality champions who are transforming the world’s corporations, organizations and communities to meet tomorrow’s critical challenges. ASQ is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., with national service centers in China, India, Mexico and a regional service center in the United Arab Emirates. Learn more about ASQ’s members, mission, technologies and training at asq.org.