10 Must-Follow Tips for Becoming a Highly Effective Engineering Manager

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Of course you need great people skills and a sufficient amount of technical knowledge to guide an engineering team. But elite managers have mastered more than the basics. They insist that proficient managers can become highly effective by following their tips.

No. 1: Share credit and shoulder blame. When things go well, highly effective managers credit their team. When there are failures, whether they’re design, process or performance-related, they take full responsibility and fix the problem so it doesn’t happen again.

No 2: Manage up as well as down. Effective managers give their team a fighting chance to succeed by devoting significant time and efforts to managing the expectations of senior management. What’s that saying? Oh yes, they under-promise and over-deliver. Works like a charm every time.

No. 3: Trust and empower subordinates. Successful managers empower engineers and get out of the way. Or, as Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, a free operating system for desktops and servers, noted in his blog: They understand that players need to make decisions on the field and their job is to prepare the team physically and mentally for the game, rather than to try and play from the sidelines.

No. 4:  Know how to get problems solved. This is different from knowing the answers to problems, according to Brett Durrett, CEO and former senior vice president of engineering and operations at social entertainment company IMVU. Effective engineering leaders don’t know all the answers but they can identify the problem solving steps and refer engineers to the appropriate resources.

No. 5: Complement the weaknesses of your technical team. Engineers excel at physics, troubleshooting problems and assimilating new scientific information. However, they tend to be a bit introverted and may lack communication skills, says Gary Hinkle, principal management consultant for Auxilium, an engineering coaching and training firm. Effective managers use their skills to close their team’s gaps, he says. And when they realize you have gifts in their areas of weakness, your engineering team will appreciate you as much as you appreciate them.

No. 6: Offer more than a paycheck. Highly effective managers recognize and satisfy engineers’ emotional, intellectual and financial needs.

No. 7: Let people succeed and fail. Of course you want everyone to be successful, but highly effective managers know when to cut their losses.

No. 8: Open your door and your mind. Effectiveness hinges on accessibility, availability and openness to new ideas.

No. 9: Embrace gray. Sponsor collaboration and diversity within your team by avoiding the tendency to view engineering issues as black or white.

No. 10: Detect and alleviate boredom. Boredom shows up quietly and appears to pose no immediate threat which makes it easy to ignore notes Michael Lopp, a software engineering manager and creator of the blog Rands In Repose. Make sure everyone on your team has a goal and that you’re actively involved in helping them achieve it, if you want to be regarded as a highly effective leader and manager.


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