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Leading Engineering Teams:
Inspiring Others

Leadership and Management Skills for Engineers

Leading Engineering Teams

A big part of effective leadership requires building and inspiring a team to perform a given task. Strong leaders understand the strengths of their team members and put together a team with complementary skills to achieve an overall objective. The leader should have a clear vision and be able to articulate it. They then follow this up by explaining to the team members what their individual roles are in realising the vision.

A good leader should be able to clearly communicate all of this, setting up the team to achieve their personal and overall goals. In so doing, they demonstrate they value the team members and their input. Empowering team members to get on and deliver is an important part of making it all happen. Empowering people involves trust.

Part of the process for a high-quality leader involves delegating tasks, as they plainly cannot do everything themselves. Effective delegation involves defining what you want each team member to do. This requires clear explanation and instruction, followed by checking they understand. Part of the explanation should involve why their contribution is important in the context of the project or wider activity.

Delegation involves empowerment, mentioned above. The limits of that empowerment should be well defined. One idea is to provide examples of the sort of issues team members have the remit to deal with and alternatively the type of query more likely to be escalated back up to the leader. The leader needs to explain what is required, to what standard and by when. Part of this includes having a clear understanding of the skills of each team member.

As the team progresses, in addition to setting direction and taking decisions, the team leader should assist resolving any conflicts and importantly, help encourage cooperation within the team.


Leading Engineering Teams: Bringing your People With You...

Motivating and Inspiring Others

A leader should aim to motivate and inspire employees. This includes people within their teams, as well as others, through their behaviour. A large part of this is about remaining positive and optimistic, even though this can be tough in many situations. Try asking questions like

  • What’s the way forward?
  • Are there any opportunities?
  • What tips and hints can you provide to help and support others?

Perhaps the purpose and objectives need rephrasing so people better understand. Leaders encourage and support others, particularly in tough times.

Other simple behaviours can be adopted like smiling, saying hello, being courteous and generally being friendly. Simple but they go a long way.

Lead by example. Be conscious of how others see you. What’s your behaviour like? How do you come across and how do you address people? A big part of leading engineering teams, and leadership more broadly, is all about behaviour and as a leader people will look and judge you by yours. Do you sound and act like a leader? How upbeat, positive and ‘can-do’ are you? Being conscious of all these factors is the first step. Following this, it’s a case of practice and making a consistent effort.

Inspiring others is also about leading from a work perspective. In a technical or engineering environment, those who are technically strong tend to get lots of respect. Corresponding to this, there are things you can do such as asking pertinent questions, paying attention to detail, showing interest in others’ technical work and staying on top of your own continued professional development. Work hard and show tenacity and determination. Inspire others to want to behave like you. Leading engineering teams involves leading by example.

Motivation – Leaders have a fundamental responsibility to motivate employees, particularly during challenging or tough times. There is a range of ways to motivate people, short of pay (as this may be beyond your control). Consider praise, recognition and attention. People appreciate a word of thanks for a job well done. Praise in public (in a team environment) is worth considering. To ensure the message is authentic, deliver praise in person, face to face. Even better, get a senior manager or board member to shake hands and show appreciate on behalf of the business.

Motivation can be encouraged by rewarding exceptional work. This can be achieved through activities outside of work. These include social get-togethers and activity events. Gifts and vouchers are also a persuasive way of rewarding employees.

Motivation can also be inspired by career-based rewards. These include job titles, additional training budgets, coaching opportunities, mentoring and access to senior staff.

To motivate employees, you should really try and understand what makes them tick. What are their aims? What do they want to do? What floats their boat? It may be improving their skills and competence, or more variety in their roles. Perhaps it’s career development and training or recognition and reward. Alternatively it may be working with inspirational people or more enriching interesting experiences.

Aligning what the business needs with job roles which encompass some of these areas, is an effective way to increase employee motivation. However it needs some consideration, consultation and sometimes job redesign. Above all, it requires good communication and willingness, based on the appreciation of what well motivated staff can deliver.

Again, engineering leaders can inspire and motivate colleagues by leading by example. Demonstrating by volunteering and going first can inspire others as they see what can be achieved.

Another method considered inspirational is simply to show a genuine interest by providing feedback, as a means of supporting and guiding staff. Leading engineering teams, by definition, involves putting others first. 

Leading Engineering Teams

Next... Leadership Styles: Tailoring to the Occasion

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