Leadership challenge

Good business leaders sometimes emerge naturally, but for more sure-fire results firms need to nurture potential talent.


Engineering companies depend on highly motivated individuals doing a great job for their clients and building a successful business, so leadership, or lack of it, has a huge impact.  Leaders are not necessarily born; they can be created.  Even when a firm is not recognised as being well led from the top, there are many examples of teams being well led by individuals with no aspiration to be CEO.

The existence of strong leadership throughout a firm can be good for client loyalty, staff recruitment and retention and profitability.

It is not enough for an engineer to be a technical expert.  They have to be able to win work from new and existing clients, and plan how to protect and develop client relationships.

And companies sell the talents of their people.  When colleagues are led by those with the ability to inspire, influence and persuade rather than just ‘manage’ them, company performance improves dramatically.

Good leadership at all levels of an engineering company creates huge impetus.  Successful engineering companies tend to develop leadership qualities in their people over five different stages of their career:

  1. Self management: When new recruits join a firm they are allocated to teams where they are required to make an individual contribution.  Vital leadership attributes such as motivation, interpersonal skills and communication are developed.
  2. Leading teams of their peers and project teams: In leading teams of peers, skills in wielding influence, achieving consensus and maintaining enthusiasm begin to emerge.
  3. Leading and managing others: This level is often reached by the most technically able and / or those good at generating fees.  However, what makes an engineer a brilliant technical or business development expert does not always make them a good leader.  It is at this stage that they need to develop and demonstrate good motivational, coaching, delegation, inspirational and performance measurement skills.
  4. Leading those who manage others: Often those heading a business unit or office will lead people with more years’ service or greater technical expertise than themselves.  They also need to identify leadership potential, as well as individual technical and fee generation expertise in those they manage.  People skills and the art of influencing others are fine-tuned at this stage.
  5. Leading the firm: The leader becomes a guardian of the firm’s culture and the driving force for change.  They need to inspire through their vision rather than demand results.  Strategic thinking business awareness, entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to develop a good management team become fundamental.

Engineering companies attract bright people.  In recognising the different stages that build a good leader, companies can re-focus their engineers’ development to ensure commercial as well as engineering vitality.

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