Being an engineer is rewarding in itself; not only do you get the rare professional opportunity to build something usable and often tangible, but your creations are usually extremely beneficial to the world at large. Still, many engineers yearn for more responsibility and more impact – which is why they become engineering entrepreneurs.
Owning your own engineering firm or business is hard work, but it grants you control over clients, projects, and more. Yet, few engineers have the business acumen necessary to keep a company afloat. Before you jump headfirst into business ownership, you should spend some time practicing your engineering leadership skills.
How Engineering Leaders Are Made
Most engineers have excellent problem-solving skills. Most engineers know how to make plans and execute them quickly. Most engineers can develop technologies that many people desperately need. However, that doesn’t mean most engineers are cut out for entrepreneurship – or even engineering leadership.
Most engineering leaders claim talents and attitudes that few engineers will ever cultivate. Perhaps infamously so, engineers rarely concern themselves with soft skills, such as communication and conflict resolution, which limits their ability to function as a team and complete projects as a unit. Therefore, most engineers require supervision, ideally by a fellow engineer who not only understands the needs of his or her team but also boasts the leadership qualities necessary to create an effective working environment.
Understandably, most engineering leaders begin as engineers and seek advanced credentials to qualify them for higher career positions. An online engineering program can provide the leadership training necessary for jobs such as senior engineer, engineer specialist, principle engineer, or engineer manager, while an engineer continues to gain experience in the field. After a few years as an engineer leader, most engineers are much better prepared for the trials of entrepreneurship.
What Engineering Leaders Do
Like other types of managers, most engineering leaders are more concerned with the big picture and long term than most engineers. Typically, engineering leaders have three concentrations: supporting their teams, coordinating with other teams, and evolving the business as a whole. Though these tasks may seem simple, each has unique challenges that require complex organization.
Supporting a team is a markedly human endeavor, which tends to be distinct from typical engineering pursuits. Engineer leaders must work to observe and understand each member of their teams, considering both day-to-day responsibilities and year-to-year growth. Engineers, like other workers, should be accomplishing personal and professional goals while having their needs met, and it is an engineer leader’s objective to ensure this occurs.
Leaders must understand that the capability and efficiency of their teams directly correlates to their executional abilities. Though some engineering leaders will contribute directly to projects, most coordinate and facilitate resources and employees, which can feel less effectual or important, especially when leadership is new. However, good engineering leaders know how to motivate their individual employees, which gives them even more productive power than they had before, when they were engineers.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially for those engineers with dreams of entrepreneurship, leaders must be committed to improving the overall business. Integrating policies and practices that improve efficiency, allocating funds to improve profit margins, and performing other big-picture managerial moves are necessary for company-wide growth. Because being a business owner is the same as being a leader, engineers should acquire leadership experience before venturing forth into entrepreneurship.
Why Engineering Leadership Matters for Entrepreneurship
At some point in their careers, most engineers create something that has market potential. However, a product alone does not a successful business make. Thousands of businesses with worthwhile concepts have failed due to poor leadership, whether due to poorly managed funds, ignored marketing strategies, or something else. Engineers are particularly prone to spectacular business missteps, usually focusing on the product before even considering customers, funding, or profits.
Engineers tend to value two personal qualities above all else: intelligence and precision. However, leaders quickly learn that intelligence alone doesn’t keep a company running smoothly, and precision is often impossible when working with so many people. In entrepreneurship, an engineer’s strengths sometimes become weaknesses, which is why having a background or education in leadership is vital before starting one’s own business.