Professional and Career Topics

  • 1.  Does ASCE Need to Create a Generic Leadership Ladder?

    Posted 02-17-2022 07:52 AM

    Is anyone aware of a leadership ladder of general applicability to civil engineers? Picture a matrix of skills / competencies vs expectations at different level of responsibility or years into one's career. An example might Building Shared Vision. The expectations for someone early in their career are quite low while senior staff and certainly executives would be expected to be able to create and compelling visions at both the company and project levels that inspires all stakeholders and motivates staff.

    I'm thinking specifically about a ladder to benefit the mentoring of younger and mid-career staff. Leadership skills are easy to talk about in the abstraction. A leadership ladder would provide a measurable set of goals that could help peel back the fog. I'm also curious as to views on why ASCE should not make a generic matrix available. Maybe one might argue that leadership is a competitive 'secret sauce' and not something to be shared. I don't buy in to this view.



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 2.  RE: Does ASCE Need to Create a Generic Leadership Ladder?

    Posted 02-17-2022 10:16 AM
    I believe the leadership ladder is included with the Salary Survey Civil engineering salary & workforce research | ASCE

    The salary matrix is matched with an engineering level.  That level has the defined skills that you are describing.  I don't think the matrix can be independent from the salary survey.  As firms and members will use it as defined levels in negotiations, the salary data associated with it becomes the real point of contention.

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    Chad Morrison P.E., F.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 3.  RE: Does ASCE Need to Create a Generic Leadership Ladder?

    Posted 02-19-2022 07:12 PM
    Thanks for raising awareness to this document and thanks to Tirza Austin, manager of our online community, for helping to find the direct link. The document name and direct link is ASCE Guidelines for Engineering Grades. I think this is an incredibly useful document, but are the elements truly attributes of leadership?

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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 4.  RE: Does ASCE Need to Create a Generic Leadership Ladder?

    Posted 02-24-2022 05:34 PM
    No. There is no reference to leadership in the EGs. We noted this last year in our ASEE paper. The CDL committee has been working on the EG project to address this gap.

    Thanks ...

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    Michael O'Connor ,P.E., M.ASCE
    Vice-President
    Silver Spring MD
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  • 5.  RE: Does ASCE Need to Create a Generic Leadership Ladder?

    Posted 02-22-2022 11:57 AM
    There are many ways to lead.  One path is to become an expert engineer; look over ASCE's Body of Knowledge.  Another path is to be a manager.  Managing a group of people such as senior engineers and some CAD technicians as a first level supervisor arguably isn't even engineering.  For folks who view engineering as a passion:  do you really want to spend most of your work time organizing budgets, prioritizing, assigning, attending supervisory meetings, writing performance reviews, coaching?  If so, go for it!  A good manager delegates technical work, gives credit to subordinates for successes and takes unconditional responsibility for their failures.

    Explore what you are really after in terms of "leadership":  is the goal "fatter paycheck so you can impress people" or "helping our clients truly succeed" or "recognition for putting in the years" or "[finally] getting away from [disappointing] engineering work [my big mistake in college was to major in this instead of joining the FBI]"?  What if being in upper leadership brought about the same paycheck as an engineer; would you still be interested?  Pick up a book by John Maxwell. The one in charge isn't likely the smartest, the quickest, the biggest contributor, the kindest, the wisest, the most talented, the most dedicated, even the most ambitious one.

    Who won the Olympic gold medals:  the wealthy sponsors, the trainers?  Who won the Super Bowl:  the head coach, the team owner?

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    Dudley McFadden P.E., D.WRE, M.ASCE
    Principal Civil Engineer
    Roseville CA
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  • 6.  RE: Does ASCE Need to Create a Generic Leadership Ladder?

    Posted 02-22-2022 06:15 PM
    Mitchell, thanks for the comment. There has been a lot of discussion of what does leadership means in the context of civil engineering, let alone leadership versus management. (Disclosure- I am part of the ASCE Committee on developing leaders). I recommend starting by reading what others have written about the subject ...

    I encourage you to read the leadership material in the ASCE 2025 Vision statement and the ASCE Civil Engineering body of knowledge. For my own reading, I found the article by Toor on the subject to be my go-to starting point ...

    Toor, Shamas-ur-Rehman. "Differentiating leadership from management: An empirical investigation of leaders and managers." Leadership and Management in Engineering 11, no. 4 (2011): 310-320.

    Toor wrote this article in a now-defunct ASCE journal on leadership. The article is now available at no charge to ASCE members ... I have attached it to this article ...

    I shared a similar reaction as you on the lack of practical guidance to leadership development. I worked with two other great collaborators on a 2021 paper to develop a framework based on my professional experience and published research. We published a leadership paper that discussed leadership development (experiential pathways). For copyright purposes, I am enclosing an earlier draft of the final paper that has the leadership discussion starting on page 9 of 17. It builds on the Toor framework from 2011.

    Subsequent to the 2021 paper, we started mapping out the "leadership step function" set out in the 2021 paper and presented the CDL with the first draft of a schematic model for leadership development that maps into the ASCE engineering grades (2007 edition). (Currently, there is no mention of leadership in the ASCE grades.)

    The model was meant to do exactly what you discussed. Present an engineering career lifecycle model and give the young engineer a self-assessment tool to assist them in developing their own leadership capabilities. The thinking is that this would be a complementary model to the current form of the Engineering grades which is HR-centric and not very useful for self-assessment.

    I think you would be a great addition to the committee's efforts and I encourage you to join CDL in this effort.

    Best to you ...


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    Michael O'Connor ,P.E., M.ASCE
    Vice-President
    Silver Spring MD
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  • 7.  RE: Does ASCE Need to Create a Generic Leadership Ladder?

    Posted 03-01-2022 08:50 AM
    Thanks for sharing this history and information. I think a challenge with the mention of, or discussion of, 'leadership' is that it becomes very personal very fast and sides are taken and heels dug in. I also don't think the debate over management and leadership will ever be resolved. It's actually comical to see the time and energy that is put into defining and discriminating between the two. An engineering work-around to this morass could be starting with what is wanted or needed, and then working backwards to identify the needed behaviors to accomplish.

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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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