Leadership by Engineers and Scientists
Leadership by Engineers and Scientists is an excellent text for technically trained individuals who are considering, anticipating, or have recently been promoted to formal leadership positions in industry or academia. Dennis W. Hess, PhD, is the Thomas C. DeLoach, Jr. Professor of Chemical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology.
Leadership by Engineers and Scientists
Introduction to Technical Leadership : Why Take Time Away from the Study and Practice of Technical Problem Solving?
Exceptional performance in an engineering or scientific position and career requires detailed knowledge of the fundamentals of the specific field and related areas, and the ability to apply that knowledge to solve problems. However, these capabilities represent necessary but not sufficient conditions for career success. Less than 50% of an engineer's or scientist's time in any technical position will generally be spent on science- or engineering-focused tasks. This percentage always decreases with responsibility level and experience; in high level leadership or management positions, less than 20% is typical. Much of the day-to-day time invested by practicing engineers or scientists irrespective of their specific vocation, involves interactions with other individuals and groups of individuals within or outside the organization, where directions, goals, and performance are discussed and decisions made. It is therefore critical to develop leadership and decision-making skills, to communicate decisions and their implications clearly, and to ensure that these tasks are performed in an ethical and professional manner. That is, "... an engineer is hired for his/her technical skills, fired for poor people skills, and promoted for leadership and management skills" . Despite the essential nature of these skills to career success, little emphasis is afforded them in core or even elective courses in science or engineering curricula.
The need for skill development in leadership can be envisioned easily. Below are three examples of situation types encountered frequently by technical leaders for which they have received no training and often have little awareness.
Two of your team members are simply incompatible. They argue about trivial as well as significant issues, make derogatory remarks about each other to other team members, and their behavior is degrading collegiality and team productivity. As team leader, how do you resolve this issue?
One of your team members is rude, arrogant, and disruptive at team meetings. Other team members avoid this individual and refuse to interact. Due to the specific technical background and expertise, the individual is critical to the success of two of your projects. How do you handle this situation?
A decision must be made regarding the purchase of a new spectrometer for use in your analytical department. The department members are split regarding which manufacturer and model should be ordered, and the discussions have become extremely heated and emotional. As team leader, how do you make this decision, and how do you deal with the individuals whose recommendation you did not take?
If these examples make you uncomfortable, wonder how you might address such issues, and begin to question if you want to ever be a team leader, then you need to keep reading.
Technical leadership effectiveness has been described through the relationship among various interpersonal effectiveness traits for engineers ; this view has also been applied to science and mathematics backgrounds . The elements of interpersonal effectiveness are defined as :
Ability to solve problems, make decisions, communicate with and engage others
Awareness of themselves, others, circumstances
Commitment to responsibility, ethical behavior
The need for these interpersonal proficiencies are evident from even brief consideration of the situations described above. The importance of developing "soft" or "professional" skills has been the subject of recent articles for scientists [4, 5] and engineers , that illustrate what skills are needed; the articles offer brief descriptions of how these skill sets can be developed in students an