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  • 1.  Engineering Leadership

    Posted 02-27-2017 09:32 AM

    Perhaps some of you know about the book The Leadership Mystique – a User’s Manual for the Human Enterprise by Manfred K de Vries. I came across it recently and totally enjoying reading it. It was written in an amazingly attractive and funny way, and the author knew how best to communicate to his readers. This book is unlike any other materials I have read. In one chapter he began by asking: what does leadership imply? what does it consist of? what are the leaders supposed to do? As one answer he writes: He doesn’t do a thing, but all the other parrots call him chairman! Then the author turns to serious stuff and goes on to quoting Margaret Thatcher – the so-called control freak Iron Lady who famously said: I don’t mind how much my ministers talk as long as they do what I say. Leaders do nothing yet they do everything – an organization is meaningless without a leader.

    Engineering leadership is nowhere mentioned. Is there any such term that catches people’s attention? Most engineers work behind public eye; perhaps people see some here and there supervising some work with a hard hat on. Political, economic and social leaders hardly know whether engineering leadership matters. If they have an engineer in the board room, they may ask him or her: what the engineers think? Before even answers come out of the engineer’s mouth, they would turn to other topics. Perhaps they would think that the engineer will begin talking in a language they would not understand. Or perhaps that the engineers will be there when there is a problem and that their opinions do not matter because they would do whatever is said.

    Yet engineers run their own organization. As the organization becomes large and large, the influence of engineers is overwhelmed by corporate lawyers, accountants and administrators. One hears complains like: engineers have tunnel vision; they cannot communicate etc. Are these complains real? Where do business and technical leaderships stand in engineering? Are engineers well equipped with the various intricacies required for navigating through complicated social interactions? Or may they remain solely focused on perfecting details of technical pursuits?

    Well I leave it at this and invite all to put forward thoughts.         

    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Consultant - Coastal, Port and Marine Engineering
    Vancouver, Canada

  • 2.  RE: Engineering Leadership

    Posted 04-25-2017 05:22 PM


    Interesting perspective on engineering leadership and the lack of recognition in the book you read. I've always been amazed at how often engineers are overlooked in that regard and opened a company to address the leadership issue in particular. Here are some tid bits about engineers before I comment further.

    Engineers Are Trusted: Engineers are tied with doctors as the 3rd most trusted professionals. Nurses, pharmacists, occupy the first two positions.

    Engineers Are Proven Leaders: 25% of S&P 500 CEO's are engineers, the most of any college major. The second most common college major is economics (17%).

    Engineers Are Designers: Engineers use proven design methods to maximize function and sustainability while minimizing challenges and risk.

    Engineers Are Professional: Engineers have a professional responsibility and liability to safeguard life, health and property, and to promote the public welfare.

    If you work backward on that list the reason for a general lack of recognition of engineering leadership within the available leadership pool begins to come into focus. As professionals with a responsibility and liability our focus tends to be on our work and the work being conducted under our supervision rather than simply driving people where others fear to tread or have not gone before. If we under design or error in design people can die and infrastructure fail. Our focus to make sure that does happen does not attract a spot-light.

    Follow that argument into the design field and you run across many of the same issues. While the architects draw amazing images and artists paint and sculpt breath taking art (the perceived leaders of community and cultural transformation), there are engineers behind the scenes who design the foundations, structures, and fastener systems that allow these imaginations to actuate, take form, and withstand the elements.

    However, when leaders of S&P 500 companies are called to step forward, engineers occupy 25% of those positions; more than any other college major. In the world of oil and gas, petrochemicals, chemicals, and manufacturing it is most likely you'll find an engineer at the top. But then work back down the list and you'll see that they are over shadowed by the leaders who make something commercially appealing with what these industries produce.

    Then when you get to the top of the list you see the real benefit of self-imposed humility and professionalism. That overwhelming and over arching benefit is trust within the community. In-fact, the other professions that share the top spots with engineers could similarly argue that leadership is not a word that pops into a persons mind when thinking about their profession.

    So the simple take away is that when you serve others above self and look after the welfare of others you fall into the shadows of recognition and fame; often even overlooked by the ones being served. But that's just who we are; professional, designers, leaders, and trusted.

    Dr. Philip Zimmerman, PE PCC M.ASCE
    Engineering Leadership
    Baton Rouge, Louisiana

  • 3.  RE: Engineering Leadership

    Posted 04-30-2017 06:34 PM

    Philip, thank you for enlightening us with some facts and statistics on engineering leadership. I have also posted the same topic in the PUBLIC POLICY forum where some interesting replies and discussions were shared by learned individuals.  

    I have had no idea that engineering majors occupy some 25% of CEO positions – more than any other! Engineering professionals responsible for turning the wheel of progress handle the very difficult task of working out workable solutions and implementing them by incorporating scientific and technological advances. They can hardly afford not to be systematic and meticulous in their approach because public trusts them (to the level of guaranteed expectations by the enforcement of licensure requirement etc.) for their welfare and safety. You are very passionate in highlighting all these aspects of engineering ethics and liability. 

    Yet in a broader societal context, engineers by nature of their main focus and pursuits on technical and scientific issues are a minority – therefore it is not surprising that they remain obscured from the very loud and visible public eyes. Apart from the top shepherd such as a CEO running an organization, engineering professionals take lead in planning, designs and implementation of projects to business acquisition and marketing. But perhaps these roles are more impregnated with transactional responsibilities rather than with the transformational visions of a leadership.

    Not so much directly on this topic, but you can also have a glimpse of some relevant materials from some pieces of my website: http://widecanvas.weebly.com


    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Consultant - Coastal, Port and Marine Engineering
    Vancouver, Canada

  • 4.  RE: Engineering Leadership

    Posted 05-01-2017 09:39 AM

    There's actually some academic momentum in this direction. (Interestingly, the discussion about changing the traditional engineering curriculum can be traced back to the mid-1950s.)  Some universities now have a focus on engineering leadership (as well as engineering entrepreneurship/innovation), to supplement the students' technical academic curricula. In our case, students (undergraduates and graduates) can obtain an Engineering Leadership Certificate after completion of specific elective courses for 9 semester credit hours; the certificate appears on their transcript. (We also offer an Engineering Entrepreneurship Certificate as well.) Some schools (for example, Penn State) have engineering leadership minors and a few (for example, University of Texas El Paso) offer a bachelor's degree in engineering leadership. (Interestingly, the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign recently began offering a bachelors degree in innovation, leadership and engineering entrepreneurship.) The American Society for Engineering Education also now has a work group on engineering leadership and ABET has had some consideration of the topic as well. It's all acknowledgment of the role that engineering plays in a technology and innovation-driven world and what industry values in graduates.

    Bill McElroy, P.E.
    Assistant Director, Engineering Leadership Institute
    University of Florida
    Gainesville FL
    Vice PresidentP.E., M.ASCE

  • 5.  RE: Engineering Leadership

    Posted 06-19-2018 06:32 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 06-19-2018 06:31 PM
    If I may request, please go to the "Career & Workforce" discussion area, and
    consider my post in relation to this topic:

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    William M Hayden Jr.


    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880