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10 Characteristics of an Outstanding Engineering Leader

10 Characteristics of an Outstanding Engineering Leader

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What are the skills needed to be an engineering manager? Some are more obvious than others, but at the Case School of Engineering, we understand that engineering leadership requires certain characteristics that do not always come naturally to those who decided to pursue a career in STEM.

To help you gain a better understanding of what it takes to be an engineering manager, we have listed 10 traits essential to succeeding as a leader, the same skills our online students learn in our graduate programs.

The Expected Qualities of an Engineer

Many of these are the same traits needed for those fresh out of undergraduate school, but engineering leadership requires a more thorough understanding of these skill sets. An engineering manager needs to master the technical skills of their roles and also be able to tackle the same problems on a larger scale. They have more responsibility for the direction for where their team is heading and it becomes even more critical for them to stay up to date on the latest research.


There’s more than one way to approach every challenge, but having the skills to tackle them from different angles and with smarter solutions is vital. Leaders need to be able to challenge themselves and their team to adapt and succeed when things do not go exactly as planned.


No feat of engineering is completed alone, so as a leader in the field, it’s essential to know how to foster a team or department that works together. Managers need to be able to engage colleagues to thoughtfully work toward a single goal.


As a leader coordinating multiple direct reports, teams or departments, keeping the entire enterprise on track is key. That means being diligent about deadlines, project milestones and quality standards—while also staying on top of them as they evolve.


It can be easy to become too focused on the day-to-day grind and make sure that every deadline is being met. However, true leaders keep an eye on their team’s long-term success and strive to develop smarter approaches.


In addition to developing strategies and innovative solutions, engineering managers need to be able to communicate the reasoning behind the decisions being made and practices being implemented. Being able to share and highlight your goals and successes to other leaders in your organization can open you and your team up to new opportunities and resources.

The Unexpected Qualities of an Engineer

Many of these traits tend to be labeled as “soft skills,” but they are fundamental for those who want to move into an engineering leadership position. Leading a team or department to completing a successful project takes technical knowledge and strategy, but it also requires adapting to new circumstances and an understanding of how your direct reports work alone and together.

Emotional intelligence

Empathy might not be one of the more obvious qualities of an engineer. Yet, it is vital to be able to engage with those who will be impacted by your work, whether those are the members of your team or your clients and end-users.


A good engineer has already mastered this skill, but they may view it as problem-solving instead of recognizing it as a unique trait. Being able to think outside the box and approach old challenges in a new way is the definition of being creative though.


Reading the latest research, asking questions and listening to new fields of thought: Staying curious is the difference between an innovative leader with staying power and someone who is merely executing their duties.


Not every project goes as planned. Being able to handle the unexpected is indispensable, whether it involves handling changing deadlines, moving goalposts or unexpected crises. An engineering manager needs to steer their team through whatever comes ahead.


It deserves to be listed twice. Communicating effectively with your leadership is imperative, but active listening can help each member of your team be more motivated and empowered, knowing that their manager cares about their day-to-day successes and long-term goals.

Master the skills

Through the online programs at the Case School of Engineering, students gain the technical skills to thrive in their field from one of the leading engineering research institutions in the country.

However, the curriculum in all four of our online master’s degrees places a strong emphasis on the soft skills needed to succeed as a leader. One of our core courses, Leadership and Interpersonal Skills, focuses on increasing their understanding of these skills and developing an effective leadership style. Students learn to recognize, manage and leverage business relationships and teamwork and develop strategies to reach rewarding outcomes. From an understanding of the business side of engineering to learning better communication strategies, our students leave the program with a well-rounded, stronger approach to engineering leadership.

Learn more about the curriculum in our Online Master of Engineering, Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering and Master of Science in Systems and Control Engineering.

Case Western Reserve University has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.