Leadership

How to Be an Effective Engineering Manager: The Top 7 Skills You Need to Thrive in the Role

by Viktor Mitrevski

11 min read

Being an engineering manager is not the easiest position one can have. 

Not only you're responsible for leading and managing a team of engineers, but you're also in charge of overseeing the design, development, and implementation of engineering projects and ensuring they're completed on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards.

There's more. Engineering managers also have to mentor and develop the people they're managing. Additionally, they often collaborate with other departments and stakeholders to ensure the engineering team's work aligns with the overall goals and objectives of the organization.

It seems like engineering managers have a lot on their plate. 

As we said, it's not the most straightforward job, but it can be gratifying if you're the right person for the role and enjoy managing and mentoring others. 

In this post, we'll be discussing the key skills and qualities needed to excel in this role and the responsibilities and challenges that come with it. We'll explore the difference between an engineering manager and other leadership roles, such as the VP of Engineering and CTO, and discuss the qualifications and experience necessary to be successful in this field.

Whether you're new to management or looking to improve your current skills, this post will provide valuable insights and actionable tips to help you become an effective engineering manager.

Engineering Manager vs. VP of Engineering vs. CTO

Many companies, especially those that are in a growth stage, as well as enterprises, have a clear hierarchy of roles. Instead of having the CTO perform the responsibilities of both a VP of Engineering and an Engineering Manager, the role is divided into three separate positions, each with its own set of responsibilities and areas of focus. 

  • CTO: The CTO assumes a senior executive-level role and is responsible for the company's overall technical strategy. They lead the development of new products and services and ensure the company's technology infrastructure is aligned with its business objectives. Only the CEO is higher in the hierarchy.
  • VP of Engineering: The VP of Engineering is a high-level management role, usually right above the Engineering Manager. They report directly to the CTO and lead multiple engineering teams across different projects and ensure the engineering department is aligned with the company's overall business strategy.
  • Engineering Manager: The Engineering Manager reports directly to the VP of Engineering. They lead and manage a team or teams of engineers within a company. They're responsible for planning, designing, and overseeing projects, ensuring they're completed on time, within budget, and are following the recommended quality standards.

What Qualifications Must an Engineering Manager Have?

If you are planning on becoming an engineering leader, you're probably wondering what qualifications you must have to land the role. Here are some requirements many companies ask for:

  • A bachelor's or master's degree in engineering, computer science, or a related field.
  • Several years of experience in the field of engineering, including experience leading and managing a team.
  • Strong technical skills and knowledge of the specific field of engineering relevant to the position.
  • Strong leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.
  • Experience with software development methodologies, such as Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall.
  • Familiarity with industry standards and regulations.
  • Strong business acumen, ability to make decisions, and to take responsibility for outcomes.

The best way to progress into the role of an engineering manager is by gaining experience in leading and managing a team as a team lead, building a strong understanding of project management methodologies, and investing in your leadership development and communication skills. 

It would be good to take relevant coursework or obtain certifications in management, leadership, and business administration to make the transition easier. It's also important to demonstrate your ability to lead, problem-solve and communicate effectively. Finally, gaining experience in different areas of the software development process, such as design, testing, and deployment, will help you to understand the big picture and make better decisions.

What Makes a Good Engineering Manager? 

People that have a combination of technical, people, and leadership skills can be a good fit for an engineering manager. Having good technical skills would not suffice; you must also be a good manager, leader, and communicator. The role might seem very lucrative, but you must always possess the right skills or be willing to improve and advance. 

With that said, let's look at some of the things that make an Engineering Manager effective at their job: 

You Must Have Strong Technical Skills

Every effective Engineering Manager was once a good engineer who wrote code. All Engineering Managers were once software developers who wrote and tested code. Having experience as a software developer is critical for progressing into a managerial role. Once you become a manager, you'll be responsible for leading teams of engineers and ensuring the work being done is technically sound and meets the goals and requirements of the project. 

A deep understanding of the technical aspects of the work will allow you to communicate effectively with the engineers, provide guidance and direction, and make informed decisions about the project's technical direction. You'll have the skills to identify and troubleshoot any issues that may arise easily.

You Must Be a Good Project Manager 

In addition to strong technical skills, Engineering Managers must also be good project managers. 

You'll be in charge of overseeing and coordinating the work of one or multiple teams and ensuring that projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the required level of quality. 

Project management skills are essential for planning, organizing, and monitoring project progress, identifying and mitigating risks, and making adjustments to project plans as needed.

If you believe you don't have the right project management skills, make sure you work on developing these skills by enrolling in a course or having someone from the company mentor and guide you. 

You Must Be Able to Communicate Effectively

Are you a good communicator? Because once you assume the role, knowing how to communicate with the different stakeholders in the company will be critical. 

An example of a situation when your communication skills will be put to the test is when you'll need to explain complex technical concepts and ideas in a way that is easy for non-technical stakeholders to understand. 

Or when you must convey to the VP of Engineering whether the project is on track with the set goals and objectives. 

Another scenario is communicating with your team of engineers. For the team to implement the technical vision and strategy, someone must explain it to them effectively to mitigate future misunderstandings. And let's imagine a conflict arises between two members of your team. Good communication skills will help you resolve conflicts easier and create a more positive working environment in your team.

You Should Have Strong Hiring Skills

You, as the Engineering Manager, will be responsible for building a team of engineers. Hiring the right people will be critical for the success of the project and the working atmosphere between the members of the team. 

In many companies, Engineering Managers are tasked with the challenge of developing and implementing an effective recruitment and selection process in order to attract top talent. Considering all companies want to win the best talent that will help them drive the company forward, attracting high-quality talent will be a real challenge. 

Other challenges might include when you need to scale your team and locate senior engineers fast and affordably. Considering the average hiring process for the IT/Technology industry takes about 30 days or so, having a solid strategy in place for such situations is essential. 

The good news is that every challenge has a solution. 

There are many strategies for attracting top talent, such as offering a competitive salary, a good benefits package, building a great company culture, and more. In periods when you're growing rapidly and need to hire talent fast, talent networks like Adeva can supply you with senior talent in less than 48 hours. 

Good Business Skills Are Always a Plus

Business skills are essential for understanding the organization's strategic goals and making decisions that align with those goals. They can help every Engineering Manager understand the financial and economic aspects of a project, such as budgeting, forecasting, and cost-benefit analysis.

After all, you'll be in charge of leading team(s) of engineers and ensuring the work being done is aligned with the goals and objectives of the organization. 

What's more, you'll be responsible for leading cross-functional teams and collaborating with other departments such as marketing, sales, and finance. In these cases, you'll need to be able to communicate the business value of their projects and understand and align with other departments' objectives.

You Must Know You to Empower Your Team and Keep Them Engaged

This is another critical aspect of being an effective Engineering Manager. Knowing how to empower your team to give their best performance and keep them engaged at their job is one of your most challenging responsibilities, but it's possible to accomplish.

Here are a few strategies:

  • You can empower your team by fostering a culture of trust and autonomy. By creating an environment in which each team member feels valued and respected, you can build a sense of ownership and accountability among team members, leading to increased motivation and productivity.
  • In addition to fostering a positive culture, providing clear goals and expectations can also go a long way. This means setting clear targets for the team to achieve and providing regular feedback on progress toward these goals. By setting clear expectations and regularly reviewing progress, you can help team members understand what is expected of them and how they can contribute to the team's success.
  • Opportunities for growth and development are another effective strategy. It can include providing training and mentorship opportunities and opportunities for team members to take on new responsibilities. Investing in the growth and development of team members can help them build new skills and advance in their careers, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and motivation.

You Must Be Willing to Collaborate With Other Stakeholders

Collaboration with other stakeholders and departments is unavoidable. For your team to develop the best service/product on time and within budget, working with other people in the company will be one of your most important responsibilities. 

For instance, Engineering Managers are often in touch with product managers. Although the two roles are different, their goals are closely aligned. 

Close collaboration is essential to ensure that the product is developed and delivered effectively. This collaboration allows for efficient and effective use of resources, clear communication of goals and progress, and the ability to quickly adapt to market or company changes. Additionally, by working together, you and the product managers can ensure that the final product meets the needs and expectations of the target market.

You'll also be in constant collaboration with the VP of Engineering and the CTO, depending on the company's specific structure. The collaboration will keep you informed about new technologies and industry trends that may impact your team's work. 

In some cases, you'll be closely collaborating with marketing heads to create materials explaining the product's technical aspects to potential customers and other stakeholders, such as white papers, case studies, and data sheets.

Key Takeaways

Being an effective engineering manager is a challenging task. You're being overly optimistic if you read this post and thought it didn't sound too tricky. If you're planning on advancing in the role, it's essential to consider all the pros and cons and identify whether you have the right skills, mindset, and willingness to assume such a demanding position. 

Yes, there are many challenges to overcome, such as managing timelines, budgets for projects, and resources, as well as leading and mentoring a team of engineers. However, with the right approach and mindset, it can also be a highly rewarding role.

FAQs

Q: What does a engineering manager do?
Engineering managers are responsible for leading and managing a team of engineers. They're also in charge of overseeing the design, development, and implementation of engineering projects and ensuring they're completed on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards. Engineering managers mentor and develop the people they're managing. Additionally, they often collaborate with other departments and stakeholders to ensure the engineering team's work aligns with the overall goals and objectives of the organization.
Q: What qualifications must an engineer manager have?
Here are some of the most improtant qualifications an engineering manager should have:
  • A bachelor's or master's degree in engineering, computer science, or a related field.
  • Several years of experience in the field of engineering, including experience leading and managing a team.
  • Strong technical skills and knowledge of the specific field of engineering relevant to the position.
  • Strong leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.
  • Experience with software development methodologies, such as Agile, Scrum, or Waterfall.
  • Familiarity with industry standards and regulations.
  • Strong business acumen, ability to make decisions, and to take responsibility for outcomes.
Q: What comes after engineering manager?
The role progression is different in every company, depending on the company's size and industry. Generally, the typical progression is Engineering Manager -> Director of Engineering -> VP of Engineering -> CTO.
Viktor Mitrevski
Viktor Mitrevski
Senior Engineering Leader and Technical Advisor

Victor is a highly motivated engineering leader with a strong passion for building, scaling, and mentoring engineering teams. With over 16 years of experience, he has progressed through various software engineering leadership roles, overseeing teams of 40 to 120 engineers distributed across multiple countries.

Expertise
  • Software Architecture
  • Technical Advisory
  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • Organization Design
  • Agile Methodologies
  • Digital Marketing
  • KPIs
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