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How can engineers successfully transition into leadership roles?

February 13, 2023
UBC Master of Engineering Leadership - Engineers Transition into Leadership

The path that engineers take to reach leadership roles is a process in and of itself: it takes time to develop the knowledge, skills and experience needed to effectively and confidently head up interdisciplinary teams to have a far-reaching impact on your organization and industry.

While there’s no specific formula that will guarantee your rise up the corporate ladder, there are some tangible steps you can take to expand your current level of responsibility, learn new skills and increase your credibility and respect.

Expand your current levels of responsibility

Whether or not your current position includes management or leadership, you can proactively expand your zone of influence, which can often open doors to roles with more responsibilities.

Start by pursuing opportunities to widen and diversify your skillset. If a new project comes up in an area just outside your usual focus, ask to be included.

Not only does this show initiative, but it enables you to collaborate with new people, expand your knowledge base and bolster your expertise. These are all skills essential to leadership.

Another strategy is to volunteer to attend conferences, trade shows and other industry-focused events to share the innovative work being done in your workplace.

This demonstrates that you have a proactive mindset and are eager to take initiative.

Develop essential skills for engineering leadership

You likely excel in your technical field, and your technical expertise may have prompted higher-ups to identify you as a high-performing employee on the leadership track.

The challenge, however, is that technical skills are different from the skills required to head up a project or team. Unfortunately, while many leaders may be technical experts, they lack the broad perspectives, emotional intelligence and communication skills that set effective leaders apart.

“Leaders need to understand the mechanics and incentives that resonate in business and policymaking environment,” says Justin Bull, Academic Director of UBC’s Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL).

“They need to inspire and lead with robust and persuasive communication skills. They need to offer a compelling and differentiated strategic point of view. And they need to learn how to move beyond simply ‘doing; towards managing teams and projects to execute at a high level. “

Developing this kind of knowledge – and the leadership skills that go with it – may require stepping aside from your career and investing in additional education.

Expand technical knowledge while developing business acumen

One option is the MEL, an interdisciplinary master’s degree in engineering and leadership.

The MEL offers six industry-specific specializations that combine technical education taught by world-renowned experts from UBC Faculty of Applied Science with business education taught through one of Canada’s most acclaimed business schools.

Students gain new knowledge of their field, while also learning the communication, business and leadership skills needed to move into the next stage of their careers.

One required course introduces students to the six core business competencies of accounting, organizational behaviour and human resources, finance, marketing, business technology management and professional development. Students work with financial statements, develop marketing plans, and practice coaching skills and handling conflict through role-playing exercises.

“As you move up the career ladder, technical specialization does not matter as much as communication and being able to manage all facets of the business, from finance to marketing,” says Jiyan Pattarwala, who completed the MEL in High Performance Buildings.

“This was a crash course in these areas and is helping me to be a better leader.” Learn more about this course and how other students found it valuable for deepening their leadership skills.

Building confidence, gaining credibility

A program like the MEL offers other benefits to those who want to be leaders in their field.

The industry-driven curriculum offers ample opportunities to push beyond your comfort zone, apply new knowledge and practice new skills that will help you to transition into leadership roles.

You’ll also be learning alongside students from diverse professional and personal backgrounds, which helps you develop emotional intelligence and the ability to form strong working relationships with those very different from you.

Engineers land leadership roles

Alumni of the program tell us that when they return to their careers, they have greater confidence as leaders – and the jump in responsibility in their roles shows that their employers do too.

A master’s degree in engineering leadership from a world-renowned university like UBC is a valuable credential when seeking your next position. It tells employers that you are comfortable with taking risks, are committed to investing in your professional development and that you have what it takes to succeed in a challenging interdisciplinary environment.

In short: it shows that you are ready to lead.