ITE Journal - July 2021 - 31

Emily works on interesting technical projects, and these skills
allow her to succeed in the work world. Enrico continues to grow
technical skills and problem-solving abilities to take complex
problems, break them into pieces, and wrestle that problem to
the ground. It's going so well that his boss says, " Congratulations,
we want you to lead this team. " " Wow, " Enrico thinks, " That's
great! " Suddenly, he's a manager. The next day, people look to him
for direction. He must delegate to and motivate people who have
different skills, backgrounds, and interests. In short, they aren't like
him. Emily, too, gets promoted.
Overnight, Emily and Enrico's worlds shift. Lacking a different
approach, they continue their detailed, problem-solving approach.
But, for some reason, staff don't seem to respond to meticulous,
analytical oversight and a facts-only approach. Emily knew the
rules for success as an engineer but now, she's puzzled, frustrated,
and stressed.
Emily and Enrico's staff and bosses experience frustration,
too, when the newly minted manager can't find his or her footing.
Productivity, morale, retention, and ultimately organizational
success are at stake.
While the details vary, this is the story of many technical professionals
as they progress to management. It isn't a new problem, but
it is an important problem. Now more than ever, we need more of
these logical, level-headed, pragmatic professionals in leadership
roles. These are the very people who can tackle the complex
problems we face. However, we drastically underestimate the shift
that is required of them. In that underestimation, we miscalculate
the type and level of professional development needed to support
the shift into management. We need to understand the problem
more deeply to craft informed solutions to grow leadership talent.
The Gap
To gain more insight, 18 leaders in the transportation and construction
industries were interviewed. These leaders (many of whom
are engineers) come from consulting firms, public agencies, and
associations in technical fields. They see Emily and Enrico's story
play out. Their responses, results from surveys of several technical
groups, and personal experience (collectively referred to as the
contributors) form the basis of the following analysis.
The analysis identifies the natural attributes of technical professionals,
the attributes of good managers, and examines the differences
that characterize The Gap. From there, a professional development
system is constructed that establishes a logical framework for understanding
the foundational skills needed to bridge The Gap.
Attributes of Technical Professionals
What skills do technical professionals naturally bring to the table?
(Of course, this is generalized, although certain traits tend to
characterize those who choose technical professions.)
Table 1. Attributes of
technical professionals
*
Analytical
* Detailed
* Problem solvers
* Fact-based
* Practical
* Level-headed
* Clear thinkers
* Get the right answer
* Knowledgeable
* Dedicated
* Competent
* Critical thinkers
* Process oriented
Table 2. Attributes of good managers:
" How " they do their job
* Trustworthy
* Good listener
* Empathetic
* Encouraging
* Fair
* Communicator
* Collaborative
* Compassionate
* Respectful
* Patient
* Understanding
* Positive
* Resilient
* Humble
* Caring
* Ethical
* Kind
* Supportive
* Decisive
* Strategic
* Thoughtful
* Knowledgeable
* Dependable
* Confident
* Organized
* Honest
* Mentor
The contributors were asked What are some of the attributes
of technical professionals? Summary responses are in Table 1 and
selected quotes are below.
Analytical and able to organize information in a way that's very
powerful. (Engineers are) leveraging the left-brain skills at a very
sophisticated, impactful level and are conveying information, facts,
and good organization. -Steve Dilts, HNTB
I think a natural resource that engineers have is our attention to
details. We're not going to let details slip through the cracks.
-Erin Flanigan, Cambridge Systematics
I think one thing that engineers are naturally good at...is the fact that
we are very thorough in our need for information and data.
-Yung Koprowski, Y2K Engineering
I think (engineers have) strengths in terms of problem solving and
having a structure to think through what the problem is, what the
potential solutions are, and then identifying the best path forward.
-Katie Turnbull, Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Most engineers are problem solvers by nature. If you put an engineer
in a room and there's a problem, most want to figure it out. It's just
in our DNA. -Adam Allen, Colliers Engineering & Design
You may think, " I already knew that, " because you probably
did. What's important is to appreciate the level of depth to which
these attributes are embodied within technical professionals. Let's
detour into neuroscience to understand the significance. Neurons
in the brain form connections that are solidified when frequently
used and rewarded. When repeated connections are made, there
are bursts of " positive " neurochemicals. For Emily and Enrico, they
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