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For many engineers, managing machines might come more naturally than managing people. While those technical skills are vital for building effective engineering teams, most engineers must work at soft skill development to successfully lead their teams. In this case, developing engineering leaders means helping engineers become the best they can be – and in the right environment, many can become effective leaders.
Establishing leaders who have an engineering background can be an essential competitive advantage for building a strong organization. Forward-thinking employers can help engineers develop the necessary leadership skills to be prepared for future roles. Start by taking these four steps we’ve outlined for you below.
Hire engineers with the future in mind
To develop future engineering leaders, employers must start by hiring engineers who have an aptitude for (or an interest in developing) interpersonal relationships and vision, as well as the standard technology skills.
The interview process is usually the best time to leverage technical assessment software to determine technical aptitude, but it’s also a great time to assess candidates for soft skills. Focus on asking open-ended questions that enable you to analyze the candidate’s communication skills, and ask for examples of experiences when they’ve had to deal with change, collaborate, or communicate with co-workers in different positions.
Suppose you always seek to hire people with outstanding “human characteristics,” such as excellent communication, listening, and openness to change. In that case, you’ll be much more likely to build engineering teams that include potential effective leaders when the time comes.
Extra reading: Software Engineering Management Mistakes to Avoid
Provide training as part of developing engineering leaders
Career development and growth should be a top priority for any tech employer, but training is crucial if you’re trying to focus on developing engineering leaders. Strong engineering teams and engineering leaders require engineers to take advantage of team building and leadership training opportunities.
Not every engineer will be interested in becoming a leader, and that’s okay. But every engineer should participate in ongoing training and development. You can guide those who have an interest or a talent for leadership toward leadership training programs, and those who prefer to continue coding or developing can focus on tech-oriented training and development.
Offer leadership opportunities to grow soft skills
Even when an engineer isn’t ready to take on a long-term leadership role, they may be prepared to gain practice in leadership with a short-term project. Give promising engineers opportunities to lead short-term projects, which will require them to delegate tasks and provide clear instructions and feedback. All of these are skills necessary for solid leaders of engineering teams.
When engineers have completed leading short-term projects, supervisors should take time to discuss the outcome with them. Get the engineer’s input about the project’s success and what areas they can improve, and share your feedback from an objective viewpoint.
You might also like: Three Traits of an Exceptional Engineering Leader
Encourage engineers to maintain their roots
Even as engineers move into leadership roles, employers should encourage them to continue coding and building to avoid losing track of technology innovations. It’s common for engineers and software developers to gradually get out of touch with technology after moving into management positions.
However, staying connected to their original technical expertise can help engineers forge strong connections with junior staff while also maintaining the ability to provide problem-solving advice and recommendations when needed. Even when engineers move into management positions, employers should regularly encourage them to continue coding, building, and developing. Because building soft skills doesn’t mean they have to lose their tech skills.
Finding and developing great engineer leaders can be very challenging. But through appropriate, deliberate growth, employers can build their great engineering leaders from the ground up. Building great engineering teams starts with hiring the right people and nurturing their interpersonal and decision-making skills while building on their technology expertise.
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