Introduction and Background

Does an engineering manager’s experience and career path naturally enable them to become a good manager and leader?

This paper illustrates the successful outcome that can be achieved and some tools that have enabled engineering businesses to attract, develop and retain their technical talent and get far more productivity out of their current team.

If engineering managers blame external factors, such as recruitment, availability skills and education, is there a chance the pot could be calling the kettle black?

Common factors drive success

The case studies are taken from award winning businesses in Electronics design and manufacture, aerospace engineering; cloud computing and construction design and installation. The complexities and educational and workplace norms and dynamics do differ in these industries, but the issues and solution seems to be very common.

Furthermore this paper sets out to show engineers are NOT a back office function. To the contrary engineers are often the main source of value and profit. New product and other engineers also enjoy substantial customer contact.

The time it takes to launch new products is the primary means of creating sustainable profits?

Speed matters but its more about developing effective ways of working.

Management vs. leadership

The distinction should be drawn between the leadership and management of engineering. Often in complex environments such as Aerospace the focus on program management “supervising engineers work and priorities” just clouds the issues in engineering.  No value was created on a project plan?  Value is always delivered by engineers off the project plan?

Furthermore engineering productivity and an operational measurement is rarely a focus.

Beyond the immediate issues this paper also sets out the real commercial and marketing value and source of profit that the engine room of an engineering team creates.

Case Study – the typical scenario

The Aerospace brief was typical of all 4 to enable the team create new products, reverse the motivational and stalled commercial focus and improve customer focus and productivity to meet the growth and customer targets.  The team had struggled with these problems for 3 years. These challenges and team was becoming a crisis. The very well qualified Engineering director who had been with the business his entire career, had been coached too. Yet still the business was failing.

(Aerospace Group design engineering.)

The facts across the UK (source IET)

75% of businesses recruiting engineers are expecting to expand.

50% of businesses are recruiting engineers but increasing proportions are experiencing problems getting the people they need, especially experienced staff.

42% of candidate’s don’t meet the skill levels notably in school leavers and practical experience in the case of graduates.

20% are planning to train existing staff,    27% will focus on recruiting graduates and 23% are taking no action at all.     24% are recruiting from outside the UK.

The age of the workforce is 56% higher than average and continues to increase. The average age over 40.      Levels of women in engineering remains low at 7%

33% of organisations site difficulty replacing staff as a concern

The importance of in house skills development

Engineering management might make these observations but these case studies show often they don’t have the breadth of experience to recognise the opportunity or… find the solution.

If 70% of candidates lacked the specific skills and or right experience,   it follows these can be developed in house, and immediate issues mitigated by focussing on getting the incumbent team working more effectively. This is the experience drawn from these case studies

What are the enabling leadership traits?

What are the leadership characteristics that enable top performance?  (Globally they are common, but very counterintuitive and unknown)


Key factors that enable motivation

Clear direction, more support and better relationships… Better motivated teams drive better customer satisfaction

Teach skills to manage projects, manage customers and identify sources of stress

Operational and delivery focus via balanced KPIs


How is better productivity achieved?

Management role model behaviour

Focussed targets and supporting plans

Improved decision making = less iterations

Managing the short & long term horizons

Retaining capability – by creating an engineering academy

Sharing knowledge across functions

Develop management & technical expert

Support structure – team functional and operations reviews. Place for everything.

Enabling elements of communication

Listening, Clear accountability

Taking counsel and decision making in teams

Coaching vs. mentoring

Recognising stressful scenarios, ways of adjusting to different customer cultures and recognising behaviour types

Big picture & narrower field of view

Development mindsetvs. a fixed mindset; engineers are trained to be very rational

Emotional intelligence

Team work as an enabler

X functional thinking and x functional review develops better decision making and saves time

X functional objectives and links

Decision makers and Sign off owners

Less reliance on senior engineers – better cumulative value from junior engineers, and platform to create senior engineers

Phased reviews, place for everything no informal / adhoc project decision making

Place for everything – managing complexity

Managing disruption long terms vs day-day engineering in service issues per program

Mentoring and induction

Effective team work requires empathy

Electronics Design and Manufacture (Management Today Award)


 The Management of engineering

Clear review and accountability structure for managing complexity and making decisions and developing capability


Building long term business value

Value is created as a consequence of the business process converting knowledge into value, not project management; project management is just a supporting tool


Capability Roadmap – developing the capability of the future, creating the engine to create the capability


Where in the process is the customer value and margin in the process?



Approaches are often led by a fixed mindset. The key is to develop a development mindset and make engineering workplaces excellent places to work. This creates the platform to attract and develop the best capability and successful legacy.    Experience has shown that at Trend 30% and, Safran about 60% more engineering capacity with the obvious commercial saving.