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Guest Speaker Series: Senior Engineers on Leading with Impact

October 21, 2021
UBC MEL - Guest Speaker Series_Senior Engineers_Leading with Impact

On Tuesday, September 28th, Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) students engaged in a fruitful conversation with successful leaders to explore the successes and challenges for leaders within the engineering industries.


The speakers came from different cross-sections of engineering which allowed students to gain new perspectives from professionals in different fields.

With over a decade of experience and an established track record of successful projects, Samson is well versed in all aspects of the design and construction process from RFP, through to completion and warranty – a testament to his abilities seen on projects both across North America and internationally. Samson treats his colleagues and his clients with a servant leader mindset, promoting a collaborative culture. Feedback from his colleagues and staff is that he is empowering as a leader and a professional they look to as a role model, who curates an environment where they believe they can excel.

  • Andrew Dobson, Manager of Engineering & Special Projects, Southern Railway of British Columbia Limited

Experienced Manager in both a functional and project focused environment with a demonstrated history of working in the transportation/railroad industry with a Track Engineering bias but knowledgeable in Signals & Communications, Bridges & Structures and able to conduct and manage Train movements. Andrew likes to work in organized set ups, to challenge the Status Quo on certain processes, protocols or methods and sees change as a good thing and even certain conflicts as positive.

Vivian is a very thorough, efficient Software Development Manager, Leader and Coach. She has over 10 years of experience in managing teams of software engineers and driving key deliverables of the companies. She is passionate about working with people, technology and processes to make something great to solve business problems. She is also a natural problem solver, organizer, project manager and an excellent communicator. Vivian contributes to the success of others through her ability to empower and develop keen talent in a company.


What does it take to become an effective leader? How do you nurture a productive environment? How can you build high-functioning teams?

Managers lead by example and can directly influence how a team operates. The panel pointed out that empathy and respect are some of the best qualities that managers can demonstrate to build effective teams. A respectful environment is also directly linked to job satisfaction. Managers that nurture a culture based on these core values are more likely to see their teams performing well.


The panel discussed how some of the most effective leaders show high levels of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman, the psychologist and author of the best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, defines it as “the ability to identify, assess and control one’s own emotions, the emotion of others and that of groups”. This ability requires one to be fully present and aware of one’s emotions, thoughts, and sensations.

Developing the competence to manage emotions becomes a critical skill in the workplace. Among other things, emotional intelligence directly influences decision making as well as the ability to nurture positive relationships. For leaders who are constantly handling multiple teams and a diversity of people, this is fundamental.

The panel agreed that being present and available for their staff was key to effective leadership. Maintaining an open-door policy, engaging with colleagues, and supporting the team were some of the strategies mentioned.

An effective leader is also someone who practices active listening. Having candid conversations regarding challenges in the workplace is better approached and resolved when there is a conscious effort to engage, connect, and help.


Management and leadership have very different meanings. The panel pointed out that managers are not always leaders. In the book Becoming A Strategic Leader, the authors state that “managers can be very good operational leaders that manage the day to day functions effectively and ensure the short term objectives are met”. Whereas a leader is someone who can influence behaviours, inspire a team, and drive a team to reach a shared goal.

The panel emphasized that in engineering, you need technical skills, but you also need to have business acumen.

It is critical to acquire the business fundamentals for strategic decision-making and confident leadership. During the conversation, students promptly highlighted how they develop and refine their business skills through the courses offered by UBC Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School during their program.


Vivian, Andrew, and Samson talked about the need to be nimble and able to navigate situations despite not having all the answers. Leaders operate in a world that is increasingly more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (or VUCA for short). As a result, leaders must learn to respond differently to the challenges ahead. Leaders need to embrace vulnerability, be open about what they don’t know, and accept the likelihood of constant change. Effective leaders develop a mindset and environment that allows the team to pivot when needed. The global pandemic has provided numerous examples of leaders who embraced uncertainty and innovated despite the challenges.


This guest speaker panel with notable leaders in the engineering field enabled attendees to appreciate the value of effective leadership in real life. As a result, students took home key tips and knowledge that can impact their careers in the same way it has impacted successful MEL alumni.