Successful engineering projects rely more on non-technical skills than technical skills. It’s not that the technical skills aren’t important – they are. One can’t design a building without knowledgeable, skilled structural, MEP, and fire engineers. An airplane isn’t safe unless there are skilled aeronautical engineers involved. You can’t rely on the quality of electricity unless there are smart electrical engineers involved. The project a skilled engineer might be working on, however, won’t be successful unless there is an equally skilled project manager involved leading and managing the engineering project.
Engineering projects aren’t just about technical issues and rational factors, they are often more heavily influenced by non-technical and emotional factors.
The technical/rational skills of engineers are useful for solving technical or rational problems on engineering projects, such as cost estimation and adjustments, forecasting, quality assurance or scheduling. These skills aren’t useful, however, when dealing with problems linked to project team members or stakeholders.
Here are few reasons why project management skills are important for an engineer:
1. Improved Efficiency: One of the major benefits of developing project management skills is increased efficiency in moving from initiating the project to closing it out. Specifically, this means that you have a mental model for each of the five phases of a project, standard operating procedures, flowcharts and templates developed, and a general understanding of how the project will unfold.
2. Enhanced Effectiveness. The project manager is responsible for the control of a project so it remains within scope, on schedule, and in budget. It is also to lead and communicate with project team members and a universe of stakeholders. A project manager’s effectiveness is pegged to the individual’s ability to understand that 80% of what they will be doing day-in/day-out is non-technical work – communicating with someone; managing expectations of a stakeholder; handling a personnel issue on the project management team; etc. One’s effectiveness in handling any of the myriad of issues that will arise will be determined by their skills and experience.
3. Helps You Learn Leadership and Communications: Developing project management skills provides you with the foundation for developing the other skills required to be effective: leadership, communications, and strategic assessment. We don’t learn these skills in engineering school and many engineers will move through their entire career never learning them.
4. Common Operating Language and Picture: The study of project management, especially if it follows the structure outlined by PMI or the U.K.’s Association for Project Management, will provide you with a common operating language and picture for how project management is supposed to be conducted. Once you have this foundation, you can make educated adjustments to fit your industry, organization, or unique situation.
5. Consistency. Developing project management skill s provides you with a standard framework of doing a project. The framework gives you thestructure. Following it on each project gives you consistency. Once you become consistent in the way you manage your projects, the people you work with will become increasingly confident in your ability to organize, execute and succeed. From an engineering career standpoint, being consistently effective is a major asset.
6. Career Advancement: Studying project management will provide you with the processes, procedures, and lingo to enhance your planning, delivery, controlling and hand-over of projects. It will also begin to posture you for the other type of career advancement – movement into leadership positions
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