Career Guide to Becoming an Engineering Manager

Engineering managers plan and work on a variety of activities. They design manufacturing processes, create new products, improve existing ones, and perform scientific research. An engineering manager usually has formal training and education in engineering.

This career guide explores how to become a successful engineering manager.

Engineering Manager Summary

  • Most engineering and natural sciences managers have formal education and work experience as engineers, scientists, or mathematicians.
  • Opportunities will be best for scientists and engineers with strong communication and business management skills.
  • Thirty-six percent of jobs are in manufacturing industries, and 33 percent are in professional, scientific, and technical services.

Working as an Engineering Manager

Engineering and natural sciences managers plan, coordinate, and direct research, design, and production activities. They may supervise engineers, scientists, and technicians, along with support personnel. These managers use their knowledge of engineering and natural sciences to oversee a variety of activities. They determine scientific and technical goals within broad outlines provided by top executives. These goals may include improving manufacturing processes, advancing scientific research, or developing new products. Managers make detailed plans to accomplish these goals. For example, they may develop the overall concepts of a new product or identify technical problems preventing the completion of a project.

To perform effectively, these managers also must apply knowledge of administrative procedures, such as budgeting, hiring, and supervision. They propose budgets for projects and programs and determine staff, training, and equipment needs. They hire and assign scientists, engineers, and support personnel to carry out specific parts of each project. They also supervise the work of these employees, check the technical accuracy of their work and the soundness of their methods, review their output, and establish administrative procedures, policies or standards—such as environmental standards, for example.

In addition, engineering and natural science managers use communication skills extensively. They spend a great deal of time coordinating the activities of their unit with those of other units or organizations. They confer with higher levels of management; with financial, production, marketing, and other managers; and with contractors and equipment and materials suppliers.

Engineering managers may supervise people who design and develop machinery, products, systems, and processes. They might also direct and coordinate production, operations, quality assurance, testing, or maintenance in industrial plants. Many manage research and development teams that produce new products and processes or improve existing ones. Others are plant engineers, who direct and coordinate the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of equipment and machinery in industrial plants.

Natural sciences managers oversee the work of life and physical scientists, including agricultural scientists, chemists, biologists, geologists, medical scientists, and physicists. These managers direct research and development projects and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production. They may work on basic research projects or on commercial activities. Science managers sometimes conduct their own research in addition to managing the work of others.

Work environment. Engineering and natural sciences managers spend most of their time in an office. Some managers, however, also may work in laboratories, where they may be exposed to the same conditions as research scientists, or in industrial plants, where they may be exposed to the same conditions as production workers. Managers tend to work long hours in order to meet project deadlines; in 2008, almost half worked over 40 hours per week. They may also experience considerable pressure to meet technical or scientific goals on a short deadline or within a tight budget.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Strong technical knowledge is essential for engineering and natural sciences managers, who must understand and guide the work of their subordinates and explain the work in nontechnical terms to senior management and potential customers. Therefore, most managers have formal education and work experience as an engineer, scientist, or mathematician.

Education and training. Engineering and natural sciences managers usually advance to management positions after years of employment as engineers or scientists. Nearly all engineering managers therefore have at least a bachelor’s degree in some specialty of engineering. Many also gain business management skills by completing a master’s degree in engineering management (MEM) or business administration (MBA), either before or after advancing to management positions. Employers often pay for such training. In large firms, some courses required in these degree programs may be offered onsite. Typically, engineers who prefer to manage in technical areas pursue an MEM, and those interested in less technical management earn an MBA.

Similarly, since most science managers begin their careers as scientists, they may have a bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. degree in a scientific discipline. Graduate programs allow scientists to augment their undergraduate training with instruction in other fields, such as management or computer technology. Future natural science managers interested in more technical management may earn traditional master’s or Ph.D. degrees in natural sciences or master’s degrees in science that incorporate business management skills. Those interested in more general management may pursue an MBA. Given the rapid pace of scientific developments, science managers must continuously upgrade their knowledge.

Other qualifications. Engineering and natural sciences managers must be specialists in the work they supervise. To advance to these positions, engineers and scientists generally must gain experience and assume management responsibility. To fill management positions, employers seek engineers and scientists who possess administrative and communication skills in addition to technical knowledge in their specialty, since they must effectively lead groups and coordinate projects.

Advancement. Engineering and natural sciences managers may advance to progressively higher leadership positions within their disciplines. Some may become managers in nontechnical areas such as marketing, human resources, or sales. In high-technology firms, managers in nontechnical areas often must possess the same specialized knowledge as do managers in technical areas. For example, employers in an engineering firm may prefer to hire experienced engineers as sales workers because the complex services offered by the firm can be marketed only by someone with specialized engineering knowledge. Such sales workers can eventually advance to jobs as sales managers.

Employment as an Engineering Manager

Engineering and natural sciences managers held about 228,700 jobs in 2008. Manufacturing industries employed 36 percent of engineering and natural sciences managers. Another 33 percent worked in professional, scientific, and technical services industries, primarily for firms providing architectural, engineering, and related services, and scientific research and development services. Other large employers include Federal, State, and local government agencies.

Job Outlook

Employment of engineering and natural sciences managers is projected to grow as fast as the average for all occupations. Opportunities will be best for engineers and scientists with strong communication and business management skills.

Employment change. Employment of engineering and natural sciences managers is expected to grow 8 percent over the 2008–18 decade, as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth should be affected by many of the same factors that affect the growth of the engineers and scientists that these managers supervise. However, job growth for managers will be somewhat slower than for engineers and scientists because the increasing tendency to outsource research and development in specialized engineering and scientific research services firms will lead to some consolidation of management.

Job prospects. Opportunities for engineering managers should be better in rapidly growing areas of engineering, such as environmental and biomedical engineering, than in more slowly growing areas, such as electrical and mechanical engineering. Opportunities for natural sciences managers should be best in the rapidly growing medical and environmental sciences.  Engineers and scientists with advanced technical knowledge and strong communication skills will be in the best position to become managers. Because engineering and natural sciences managers are involved in the financial, production, and marketing activities of their firm, business management skills are also advantageous for those seeking management positions. In addition to those openings resulting from employment growth, job openings will result from the need to replace managers who retire or move into other occupations.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Engineering and natural sciences managers 228,700 246,900 18,200 8
Engineering managers 11-9041 184,000 195,400 11,300 6
Natural sciences managers 11-9121 44,600 51,500 6,900 15
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Engineering Managers

Earnings for engineering and natural sciences managers vary by specialty and by level of responsibility. Median annual wages of engineering managers were $115,270 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $91,870 and $141,730. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of engineering managers were:

Scientific research and development services $141,030
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 128,630
Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing 127,790
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 118,430
Architectural, engineering, and related services 114,110

Median annual wages of natural sciences managers were $112,800 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $85,910 and $151,400. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of natural sciences managers were:

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing $144,640
Scientific research and development services 136,310
Federal Executive Branch 102,410
Architectural, engineering, and related services 98,980
State government 69,220

In addition, engineering and natural sciences managers, especially those at higher levels, often receive more benefits—such as expense accounts, stock-option plans, and bonuses—than do nonmanagerial workers in their organizations.

Engineering managers manage teams of engineers in a variety of production capacities. We hope you enjoyed learning about how to become an engineering manager in this free career guide.

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