|Is There a "Management Track" for Civil Engineers?|
A common perception among young civil engineers starting out in the profession is that they must eventually pursue a management track in order to have a successful career. To provide further insight into this issue, the Younger Member Forum selected "The Management Track" as the topic of its Eighth Annual Executive Forum, which was held at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen in Manhattan on February 26, 2009.
Following a networking reception with cocktails and hors d'œuvres, Arthur Alazamora, Jr. served as the moderator for a panel discussion among several executives of engineering firms in the New York City area that included:
Each of the panelists first gave a brief background about their careers and also described how they ended up becoming executives at their firms. Many of the speakers pointed out that they never followed a clearly defined management track, instead they worked hard on assignments that were given to them and were open to taking on new tasks and responsibilities, which eventually led to higher management positions within their companies.
It is important for young engineers to recognize that there can be rewards for taking paths other than the management track. The concept of dual career paths does exist and many technical experts in their fields can be compensated just as well as those individuals in management positions. The management track is not for everyone and sometimes a company can shortchange itself if it forces technical experts into becoming managers. Some individuals lack the necessary skill sets to advance to upper levels of management and can be put into uncomfortable roles. Managers need to be comfortable with communicating items to clients and managing expectations in what clients can expect and how much it will cost.
While there is no magic formula for becoming a successful manager, the panelists agreed that engineers need to first develop technical skills before becoming a manager. Managers need to become technically proficient enough to know about the projects they are managing. Also, you can't successfully manage someone whose job you know nothing about. Learning shouldn't stop after college and one of the advantages of the continuing education requirements for maintaining a P.E. license in New York State is that it mandates engineers to keep on expanding their technical knowledge.
Some civil engineers choose to continue their education by obtaining a masters degree. A common question asked by engineers is if they should obtain a MBA or a MS degree. Although there was no consensus among the panelists on a preferred option for engineers, it was agreed that some form of higher education is warranted if that's what you want to do because there is much more to learn after a bachelor's degree. Getting a few years of experience before starting a masters program could be helpful in helping to decide what you want to do.
To become a successful manger, the panelists urged the young engineers to develop communication skills, work hard and be energetic, be a good listener, and trust that your manager will recognize your ability to get things done and make others work better through teamwork. Taking on a leadership role in an organization such as ASCE is another great way to develop management skills. A civil engineer can definitely pursue the technical track if he or she wants to become an expert in their field and this career path is more definitive. Civil engineers can also aim for developing both skill sets; often the "go-to" people at companies are the engineers that can combine good technical skills with good management skills. The important thing is to find a balance between developing technical and management skills that is right for you.
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