While it’s true that contemporary management comes in a multitude of different styles (you can explore a few of them here), can someone who has spent many years studying and then practicing in a specialist field – say, as an engineer – become a great manager?
Writing in the tech news and analysis outlet VentureBeat, former computer architecture engineer-turned-senior manager Adam Waksman makes a profound observation: the expertise honed over many years by engineers, from their early academic training through to their daily work experience, tends to by highly focused and limited in scope. They’re required to know in enormous depth exactly how specific system components work so they can identify the root cause of a problem even when faced with only obscure symptoms.
But, as Waksman notes, “A manager gains little or no value from this level of knowledge and instead needs to make decisions based on a broader scope.”
While Waksman is confident that specialist professionals like engineers can indeed broaden their scope to become highly effective managers, he insists that they must proceed through a period of transition from laser-focused expert to one who takes a more “zoomed-out” view on how the business or organization can thrive. And that entails bringing people together to deploy their areas of expertise on a common project rather than trying to solve a specific problem alone.
Let’s take a closer look at how specialized professionals can make the transition Waksman writes of.
From specialist to manager: An overview
Waksman urges those in specialist roles who want to advance to more senior positions in the organization to recognize management as a skill set that, like any specialism, needs to be learned and practiced.
One crucial way of making the transition Waksman describes is to gain a widely-sought after advanced qualification like a Master in Engineering Management. While this may sound daunting to a busy professional with existing work, family, and financial obligations, sacrificing income and family duties to pursue an on-campus program is no longer necessary. Well-established brick-and-mortar centers of higher educational excellence like Michigan’s Kettering University Online offer a complete Master of Science in Engineering Management program, allowing students to work around their existing commitments from the comfort of their own homes.
This path harnesses a student’s existing engineering knowledge and fuses it with modern management skills and proficiencies. While engineers solve problems, managers get problems solved by breaking down the silos between different teams and fields of expertise within an organization and facilitating working collaboratively across them.
To do this, they draw on unique managerial knowledge and practices, exemplary communication and listening skills, management strategies, a detailed overview of key stakeholders extending from suppliers to customers, and an adroit global outlook. They draw on knowledge and technologies concerned with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), customer relationship management (CRM), product life cycle management (PLM), and an organizations’ key social networks. And they communicate, delegate, and project manage with alacrity.
There is undoubtedly a significant leap from the details of the particular to the zoomed-out overview of a good manager. But engineers and other specialists have the mental and cognitive acuity to make the leap, and, with the right training, can progress to becoming outstanding (and well-remunerated) managers.