Soft Skills For Engineers

“It is not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” – Charles Darwin

Technical skills alone are insufficient for engineering professional engineers’ career success. ‘Soft skills’ play a very important role in differentiating engineers during employment and during career development.

 The fact that the second skill set, that is, the soft skills along with the hard skills are an absolute essential for growth of an engineer in the organization. A blend of both is what determines your level of success as a professional.

Soft Skills are what are termed as people skills or interpersonal skills. These determine an engineers attitude towards his work, organization, clients and colleagues.

Soft skills are not just limited to the workplace of a professional but extends to other spheres of his life too for example social and family.

Soft skills is not just about communicating, but includes ability to manage stress, ability to organize, ability to provide solutions.

Most of the times the importance of soft skills is ignored and not given adequate attention for engineers. The education that goes in to make an engineer does not concentrate on the people skills. The curriculum tends to ignore the fact that at the and of the day an engineer would be working in a team, reporting to someone, taking reports, dealing with work pressures, giving presentations, attending phone calls, sending mails just to specify a few.

In all such situations along with technical skills, experience and physiological maturity of an individual is going to play an important role.

 

Here are some of the most important soft skills engineers should develop and improve:

Adaptability  

Having the ability to modify and adjust according to the different situations and according to unexpected changes shows one of the most important skills an engineer has to possess: Adaptability.

An engineer with good adaptability skills is able to identify solutions to unforeseen problems. Then, the engineer can make the necessary modifications to adapt to the new situation or new environment.

This also happens at a quite fast pace, since often the success of a project depends on assessing the problem fast and finding a flexible and thoughtful solution to it.

Attention to detail

Engineering relies on precision and meticulous attention to detail. A single oversight or error in calculation can set a project back — or even lead to a dangerous situation. A biomedical engineer must be able to maintain focus, and have excellent organizational skills in order to manage every project down to the smallest bit of minutiae. Some might even call a biomedical engineer obsessive or perhaps even anal retentive due to their focus on details, but in this field, nothing can be overlooked, and nothing can rely on guesswork.

Collaboration

Whether you call it cooperation, collaboration, or teamwork, an engineer’s ability to work with other people from different backgrounds is essential. For example, the network engineer seldom works alone on a project. Usually there is a team of engineers with different specialisations, working on their particular area, as well as Project Managers, Administrative Staff all working together to meet one set of objectives, sharing accountability as a team.

Product creation, service execution, and system innovation do not happen by one person. Steve Jobs may have been an incredible driving force behind Apple’s success, but there were countless engineers, developers, and other professionals working to create, market and sell their products. Collaborating in a team setting is not only necessary for a job seeker and employee, but is absolutely essential.

Commitment and desire to learn. 

Engineers must demonstrate their desire to learn and their ability to commit to a plan. Young engineers may not understand the seriousness of staying committed, but they soon learn that without this skill, the other skills don’t matter. Commitment also means absorbing new technologies and keeping updated on your industry. Engineers help themselves when they show they can work effectively within the industry and improve it.

Communication

Very few fields today don’t list communication as a key skill, and engineering is no different. Engineers need to be able to communicate their work and their findings to disparate audiences, including those who don’t have the same knowledge and background. In other words, they need to be able to translate complex technical concepts into plain English so that others can understand. Written communication skills are also vital, as engineers will often need to report on their findings and explain their work in writing.

Confrontation & Conflict Negotiation

• Human interaction that is going to be present in a work setting regardless of whether you want it to or not

• To master some of the most challenging aspects of effective communication

5 Rules for Handling Conflict

1. When you are in conflict, stabilize and then keep re-stabilizing yourself

2. Observe the other person or group members carefully so that you don’t escalate their interpersonal responses by your own non-verbal and verbal choices

3. Back off and give yourself a break from the action

4. Focus on the positives and strengths of each of your teammates or your individual peers. Focus on your own positives and strengths. Use the positives about your teammates as you highlight situational discrepancies to them while using constructive verbal communication choices

5. Don’t criticize, don’t use sarcasm, don’t use non-verbal body postures, voice tone and facial expressions that broadcast anger, hurt, disgust, contempt, blame or disconnect

    – These emotions, when used during communication in conflict, have been proven by research (Dr. John Gottman and peers) to be 94% accurate in predicting very low relationship satisfaction and very high rates of relationship dissolution

Creative thinking 

Here is where thinking-outside-the-box becomes essential. Creative thinking is a skill required by many jobs across different industries. It becomes particularly important in engineering.

Finding ways to apply existing knowledge in a novel, creative way can take you further in your engineering career. Problem-solving is at the core mission of an engineer. Possessing or developing creative thinking is as valuable as the technical skills you use to identify and troubleshoot the source of a problem.

Creative thinking is a soft skill that more engineers and others should cultivate to become truly valuable as both a team member and as a leader.

Critical thinking

Old-timers, let alone prospective engineers, can sometimes get lost in the buzzwords that the industry throws at them. And then there are those skills that are hugely useful, but not adequately covered within an engineering curriculum. Critical thinking is both a buzzword and an intangible, soft, but incredibly handy skill.

But what is critical thinking? The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking in 1987 fashioned a definition:

“Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” 

Critical thinking then, is the kind of skill an engineer should be equipped with before moving forward into an engineering career.

Customer Service

giving customers more than they expect helps to nurture long-term and loyal relationships. After all, customers are crucial to the success of most businesses. As a result, companies are more focused on customers than ever be

Delegation

On the surface, effective delegation sounds pretty easy. However, in reality, it can be very difficult and uncomfortable. Delegation is the assignment of responsibility to another person to carry out a specific activity.

Delegation empowers others to make decisions that the manager is used to making themselves. It is a shifting of decision-making authority usually from one organizational level to a lower one. Delegation, if properly done, is a good thing and can save money and time, help in building skills, and also motivate people. The opposite of effective delegation is micromanagement, where a manager provides too much input, direction, and review of delegated work. Poor delegation can cause frustration and confusion to all the involved parties.

When work is delegated, the manager remains accountable for the outcome of the delegated work.  In other words, you will always remain accountable for the results. You cannot delegate accountability. What you delegate is responsibility. Responsibility is the work assigned to an individual.  When assigning responsibilities, these individuals must be willing and ready to accept the delegation (or responsibility). The readiness of an individual is an important factor in determining the success of delegation. Individuals must be prepared for delegation.

Empathy & Teamwork

Some engineers get deeply interested in the projects they work on and can lose sight of the customer’s needs. This is where being empathetic can help. From an engineering standpoint, empathy can be defined as understanding the work from the client’s perspective. At the end of the day, that’s who must come first. However, empathy with coworkers is also key. On any team, not all members have full access to the information needed to complete a project. This can lead some staff members to get frustrated. Engineers who demonstrate empathy to these individuals, by looking at the work from their perspective, are better able to maintain positive working relationships.

Collaboration between engineering disciplines and nontechnical team members is common in private and public sector work. It’s rare you’ll ever do an entire project on your own from start to finish. You should be able to learn from others’ perspectives and understand their needs so you can come together to create a project that’s completed on time, on budget, and with high quality.

Enthusiasm

This soft skill is directly concerned with our attitude. Enthusiasm directly helps us to maintain a positive attitude, at all times, which is a great secret of success both in personal life and in the professional career.

Facilitation Skills

Getting something done by committee, conducting a meeting to achieve a desired outcome, managing a root causes analysis team are all examples when you will exercise your facilitation skills.

The soft skills build on many of those mentioned above plus the ability to work with individuals and ‘the group’ to achieve objectives. One thing to keep in mind the ‘group’ is an entity that often behaves differently than the individuals involved. Serving the group and the groups purpose, will garner success more often as you work to facilitate a meeting or process.

Giving and receiving feedback

Paraphrasing and updating John Donne, the 16th Century English poet, “No one is an island, especially in the field of engineering.” Engineers have to work as part of a team, so it’s important to be able to give and receive feedback without seeing red. Engineers must understand their team just as well as they understand their projects. As one software boot camp instructor puts it, “Providing honest, kind, and actionable feedback when working in teams is only possible if you have empathy. And the skill of giving and receiving feedback is more often than not the key difference between successful and unsuccessful projects.”

Humility

One important thing I’ve come to learn is that, as SREs, we are expected to have all the answers; after all, our job skills are multi-faceted.

Over the last four years at LinkedIn, I’ve worked on many different teams, from the traffic stack to the database platform, and amassed a wealth of knowledge on how those systems work—to the point where I could almost be considered an expert for all of those pieces of infrastructure. Naturally, people come to me asking questions about these subjects and unfortunately, I don’t always have all of the answers. It’s very easy to end up in an imposter syndrome position where you feel inadequate because you don’t have the answer to every question.

This is actually counter-intuitive. While great engineers have a solid understanding of the infrastructure, tools and teams around them, the best engineers will learn who the best subject matter experts are and will direct relevant queries to that person.

This becomes a critical skill as you scale as an engineer. If 30 people are coming to you asking you about things that aren’t in your subject matter expertise, you can get slowed down and may not be able to give the best possible advice, effectively slowing the person asking the question. Knowing when to refer someone and whom to refer them to is part of being a great engineer.

Influencing skills

The ability to negotiate with people at all levels of the business, forge productive relationships, and persuasively present ideas and opinions is an important part of modern engineering roles. Confident influencers and decision-makers are always in demand.

Integrity

In the fast-paced world of today’s modern development processes, anyone and everyone must have impeccable integrity. A tenet of the DevOps approach is the cultural shift in the workplace, uniting workers from once segregated areas of . In this converged workplace, it is crucial that all participants be genuine and honest about their experiences in order to build a culture of trust.

This is especially applicable to engineers, since they play a vital role in DevOps. While it’s true that the field of DevOps is still relatively new, it’s no invitation for engineers to stretch the truth or make false claims about their capabilities. To be successful, engineers must be transparent about their backgrounds and the experiences they’ve had within their teams and be able to explain their thought processes. This level of openness and transparency will help to foster a culture of trust and instill confidence in those working alongside the engineers.

Interpersonal Skills

Closely related to communication skills, interpersonal skills are an important component of success in the workplace.

These days, it’s a rare job that requires no cooperative work with other people.

“Engineering professionals are almost always part of a multi-discipline team and they need to exhibit a positive attitude, cooperate in the workplace, interact with people in a friendly manner and be accountable for their assignments. There is more to being a professional than simply technical prowess,” states Monachino.

Cultivating your interpersonal skills will make you an effective team or group leader, enable you to build and maintain strong relationships with both coworkers and clients and help you manage staff efficiently and effectively. Conflict resolution is an essential part of this, as problems both in and out of your control will happen, and not everyone will be happy all the time.  These types of leadership skills are essential as you advance in your career.

Leadership and management.

The best engineers are often highly effective managers and leaders. If you are ambitious and aim to advance your career, obtaining these skills is crucial. For small manufacturing businesses, strong inspirational leadership and effective management is the surest way to get the very best out of your people, your assets and your limited resources.

On the ground, the roles of engineers and technicians typically include management-related tasks. Engineering employees find themselves responsible for leading teams and managing projects, as well as being accountable for budgets and assets. They work with suppliers and customers, in addition to being in frequent contact other functions within the business.

Organizational Skills

With project deadlines, and business critical solutions on the line, the network engineer has to often juggle more than one task at a time in conjunction with colleagues working on other aspects of the project. The ability to organize the workload and manage the deadlines effectively is a key skill. The ability to plan and prioritize.

Presentation Skills

It’s inevitable that at some point, you’ll need to present an engineering concept to a non-technical audience. If your audience doesn’t understand your presentation, they may conclude that you don’t really know your subject. It is fair to say that good presentation skills can lead to career advancement whereas poor presentation skills may hold you back.

Presenting to your classmates in college or university is good experience. But, workplaces have much higher standards. Unless you’ve had previous training in presentation skills, it’s best to assume that your presentation skills are not sufficient as-is and need to be upgraded.

Problem Solving Skills.

The ability to visualize, articulate, and solve both complex and uncomplicated problems and concepts and make decisions that are sensible and based on available information. Such skills include the ability to apply logical thinking to gathering and analyzing information, designing and testing solutions to problems, and formulating plans. In systems analysis the systems analyst should focus on four sets of analytical skills: systems thinking, organizational knowledge, problem identification, and problem analyzing and solving.

Project Management

Frequently, engineers manage teams and must integrate with auxiliary departments while trying to meet deadlines on a budget. Because of the administrative demands required of most engineers, many of them go on to become CEOs and thought leaders.

Like other professionals that need project management skills, some engineers seek a Project Management Certification. Some companies will offer their engineers the opportunity to get certified in project management. If you seek employment as an engineer and already have a bachelor’s degree, you can often find graduate programs at low cost that help you take and pass the PMI exam.

Professionalism

• Maintain composure and keep emotions in check

• Deal calmly and effectively with stressful or difficult situations

• Accept criticism tactfully and attempt to learn from it

• Dress appropriately for occupational and worksite requirements

• Maintain appropriate personal hygiene

• Project a positive image of oneself and the organization

Sales Skills

A good understanding of the sales process is essential to succeeding as a Sales Engineer. Sales Engineers are also expected to be able to qualify the viability of a sales opportunity from a technical perspective.

Teamwork

• Encourage others to express their ideas and opinions

• Exhibit tact and diplomacy and strive to build consensus

• Deliver feedback and constructive criticism and voice objections to others’ ideas and opinions in a supportive, non-accusatory manner

• Respond appropriately to positive and negative feedback

• Choose behaviors and actions that best support the team and accomplishment of work tasks

• Use a group approach to identify problems and develop solutions based on group consensus

• Bring others together to reconcile differences

• Handle conflicts maturely by exercising “give and take” to achieve positive results for all parties

Time Management

Without question, engineers have to deal with many important tasks in their daily life. Their responsibilities are always being extended with everything a top priority which increases time pressure: more and more projects need to be handled with increasing demands in less time but stable quality.

Here are some quick tips:

1. Learn to delegate (stop micromanaging)

2. Apply the 80/20 rule

3. Say (or request) “no” more often

4. Track your time

5. Get organized

6. Invest in management tools

7. Conduct actionable meetings

8. Review your day

Work Ethic. 

As a good professional, you take a broad view of your work, including its social and environmental context, and take personal responsibility for your decisions and their effects on others.

Summing-up

This list might seem overwhelming. But here’s the thing – you already have most of these skills within you. You might not be aware of some of them. Hopefully, this article helps you uncover some and grow others.

As you can see, most of them are connected. You need to be humble enough to develop your confidence. Managing people will require you to display your empathy, communication, and teamwork skills. This list is not here to help you cherry-pick individual skills. It’s here to help you recognize them, and it’s here to help paint a broader picture of skills required today. At this point I hope I made it clear enough that soft skills are valuable for each and every engineer

Much like the workplace, technology, and business environments change, this list of top soft skills for engineers will change as well. In the future, driven by artificial intelligence and robots, your problem-solving skills and creativity will become even more critical. Robots are not going to be able to compete with that for quite some time. At the same time, some of your engineering duties will become tasks that will be possible to automate to a degree. Your soft skills are your advantage and your future-proofing strategy. Embrace them.


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