To the highly specialized engineer, the leap from the production halls to the manager’s chair can pose quite a challenge. Despite this, more and more engineers are rising to the top of the organizational charts. Technical knowledge has become an increasingly popular feature among the top business positions. However, with increasing and more complex demands on the leadership role, there is a need for further training.
In a modern and complex society, the art of the engineering and the personal qualities that come with this profession are often the key to gaining a competitive advantage as well as market and bottom line growth. Engineers are therefore in high demand from companies who require managers with technical know-how and specialist knowledge. Several studies have shown this, including one from the Danish Chamber of Commerce, which in 2013 identified the educational programmes which are most likely to lead to a management position. The investigation revealed that civil engineers came in at 2nd place with a 20.8 per cent chance of ending up in a managerial position, second only to candidates with a DJØF background.
That is because companies get their edge from innovation and forces that can deliver future-proof solutions to society’s challenges. They get their edge from managers who know how to distinguish the wheat from the chaff and are able to assess the potential for innovation, or lack thereof, in the actions the company is considering.
Engineers have this ability, but whereas it used to be sufficient to have strong technical and professional merits, that is now no longer enough. Also the heavy-duty managerial skills need to be in place in order for an engineer to succeed in the boardrooms.
Mr. Morten Thiessen, Chairman of the Employee Council of the Engineers’ Association, representing the interests of the association’s more than 100000 members, explains:
“If you are an engineer with leadership ambitions, it is not enough just to have the core academic skills. Maybe 5-10 years ago this was still the case – many managers were self-made and lacked any formal management training. That is just not good enough anymore, and for most engineers concerned, it would be – if not a necessity – an exceedingly good idea to supplement their specialist knowledge with management training or further education,”
-says Mr. Thiessen.
Further education pays off
Society is in fact changing rapidly, and there are currently a number of significant technological developments that you as an engineer have to follow and stay updated on – both within field of engineering per se, but also in the discipline of management. Retraining is therefore something that an engineer needs to continuously invest energy, time and resources in, for his company’s as well as his own sake, says the Society of Engineers, who seem to see a correlation between the degree of training, the performance of the business and the size of the pay check:
“The companies that are able to attract and retain the brightest and best-educated people are often those who win in the long term”, he says, and continues:
“And the engineers who further their education are more likely to have higher wages than those who do not – by a rather large amount, as well as they get access to career paths that would otherwise be closed to them – or at least less accessible. It is really very tangible, the statistics show this clearly: training pays off “, says Mr. Morten Thiessen and highlights in particular the engineers’ ability through their technological insight to understand and act on problems that may arise in production and innovation situations.
“Engineers have control of the substance and can provide suggestions for solutions. This is what it is expected from the leaders today, and it is what engineers can, “says Mr. Thiessen.
Engineers are professional geeks, often introverted and not so strong when it comes to personal relationships
The situation is different when it comes to the more project-oriented, human, outgoing and personal management tasks in modern enterprises that are only becoming more common. Engineers are trained in rational data analysis and fact-based performance optimization. But as a leader, you must also have a face. You should know HR, how to handle conflicts, manage staff and have an understanding of the more irrational aspects of human interaction. You have to have business sense and be able to get up in a helicopter and view the company as a gathered entity rather than individual elements. To many engineers, this is a challenge.
“The management role is very different from where the engineers come from. It is much more public and visible and requires a range of skills that you do not necessarily possess as an engineer. Engineers are often quite geeky on the technical side and perhaps not as strong on their people skills. They often feel more comfortable being able to ‘hide’ behind their professional insights, facts and specialized knowledge, and are reluctant at having to make decisions on an incomplete basis and loose assumptions,”
– says Mr. Morten Thiessen.
As a manager, you have to be able to navigate troubled waters and accept unpredictability and uncertain prospects, and to many engineers, this may be a mind-set that conflicts with their DNA. That is why, when transforming a geek to a manager, it can be prudent to obtain business and management-oriented training.
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From product understanding to business understanding
Further training can lift engineers from an understanding of the product to an understanding of the business. It can give them a stool to stand on, which makes it possible to look over the fence.
“In the serious management courses and further education, you will gain a sense of the company’s financial balance, insight into HR, strategic tools, and a sense of project management and lean. You will learn about marketing, and if you choose a provider that focuses on personal development and personal leadership, you also get an opportunity to reflect on you own situation – both privately and in relation to your career “, he says and explains that especially for engineers who by nature are often a little introverted and security-seeking, it may be healthy to be ‘provoked’ a little and brought out of their usual comfort zone.
“Engineers love to be the best in their field, but on the other hand, it is difficult for them to have to deal with the unknown. For the same reason it may be good for many engineers to follow an education that emphasizes active sparring, dialogue and interaction as well as a focus on personal development, “
– says Morten Thiessen, who speaks from experience. He himself has made the journey from being an extremely specialized engineer to being the CEO of business today.
“In the beginning it was a little difficult. It’s a completely different skill set that is needed. It requires adapting mentally and recognizing at a personal level that you are no longer being judged only on your technical and professional skills, but also, and even more, on your ability to make decisions. That takes some getting used to,” he says. For this purpose he did some further education in order to, as he says “be better prepared for the management role.”
From Mini MBA to MBA
Another engineer who has also benefited from training is Thavarupan Perinpam, who works for the manufacturing company Danfoss. At Danfoss, he is project manager, and he must ensure that all of Danfoss’ activities run according to the same procedures, and that they all meet certain certifications and standards. It requires an insight into all of the organization’s business disciplines – from HR via sales and marketing to R&D and supply chain management.
For the same reason, Thavarupan Perinpam has taken a Mini MBA from IME, and he was so pleased with it that he has now embarked on an MBA from Henley Business School.
“As the programme manager, it is not enough to only have the technical perspective. You must also see the more commercial perspectives of the organizational operation. Engineers are only a pawn in the big game, and as a manager, you must be able to put the pieces together and understand the business at a much broader level. You must, so to speak, advance from being a specialist to being a generalist, and in order to do that, I have taken a Mini MBA from IME,” he says about the programme, which through more than six days of training takes participants through the classic modules from MBA programme – including the disciplines of strategy, HR, Finance, Marketing, Change, Process Control and Personal Development.
According Thavarupan Perinpam, it was just what he needed:
“I have gained a solid insight into how to manage an organization and the budget of each department. I now know more about how to handle a change and how you can manage your staff with HRM. I have climbed into the helicopter, and now I understand better why the organization and its individual elements act as they do,” he says, and goes on:
“I have gained a larger conceptual framework that I can use in everyday life to act with colleagues from other departments. I have received specific management tools I can use directly in my work, and through the Mini MBA, I got a good taste of what the MBA that I am now in the process of taking includes,”
– explains Thavarupan, who in a modest yet focused way is aiming for career advancement within the foreseeable future.
“Most managers at Danfoss have engineering backgrounds, which they have later supplemented with knowledge from more managerial and commercial aspects of the business. If you want to advance in Danfoss, you therefore need more training and a better business understanding. If I deliver on the results I am expected to deliver internally in the company and still manage to finish my education successfully, I could imagine that it will lead to a form of promotion,” Thavarupan Perinpam explains.
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