BLUF: I've been blessed with some leadership resonsibilities in my current role and would love advice on how to pivot from Senior Software Engineer to Management.

What I've done so far is reach out to three managers I respect. I have a reading list I intend to work through before I reengage them for more advice.

I plan to put in some time in my current "hybrid" role to get some successes and experience. I am reading other "transition" and "pivot" posts in this forum, but would love your take.

I would like to build a timeline for about a year as I think that's a solid block of success before I ask for more responcibilities. I am not adverse to changing companies, but obviously I have some good relationships where I am.

Thanks for your time and advise,


williamelledgepe's picture

There is an interesting trend I have seen among engineers who are in mgmt and those who aren't.  I am a civil engineer (manager really - the only calculations I do have dollar symbols and years; psi and LF left my calculator long ago).  I have a staff over 50 and about 60 projects worth ~$750 million (capital).  I have seen many engineers try to manage and not make it.  The engineers who get promoted to manager and do well see the big picture (the forest) and don't get mired in details (the trees).  Seeing patterns is something we engineers are all good at; I am talking about something simpler and bigger than seeing a pattern.  Some engineers get stuck on a single redline markup.  That single redline can hold up an entire project because they can't get through it.  Many of the conflicts I am called in to resolve involve two people who have different opinions about a technical issue.  I truth - many of those conflicts can be resolved both ways - both ways will work - and often there is no way of knowing which way will work better.  There are obvious design standards and minimally acceptable criteria, but beyond standards there is a lot of art in engineering.  You have to become comfortable with the realization that other can change your design and it will still work (this is especially difficult for civil engineers because public safety requires we seal our designs using our license number and we can lose our license to practice if our design fails).  You havea to be comfortable with teh fact that change orders happen.   I am not talking about winging it, or having the contractor design something the engineer should have calculated - there is a big spectrum between these opposing ends of detail.  When you transition to management you have to become comfortable with ambiguity (not easy for engineers).  You have to have the courage to start solving organizational problems (not technical problems) with a long-term solutions not knowing what the final outcome will be or if you'll even be able to pull it off. Some engineers can't move past doing something in a way that is not the "most efficient way" regardless of the fact that getting it done in a slightly less efficient way is better than not getting it done.  There is a common tradeoff between scope, schedule, budget, quality, and risk.  Engineers focus quality - often sacrificing all else.  You have to become OK with a organizational solutions that are 30% off perfect if you're going to make it managing engineers.  

I think there is a lot of advice that says you need to learn about yourself (strengths, weaknesses, behavioral patterns via DISC profile, feedback from staff, etc).  This is also all good advice.  Engineers love to figure out how things work, how to calculate something that most others don't even realize exists, and how to make the system function better (clean drinking water in my case).  We don't get into engineering because we want to form friendships; we get into the inductry because we like calculating things and we're smart at math and science.  You probably have to improve your soft skills - listen to MT, read (and implement) HBR, Seven Habits, Crucial Conversations, Leadership Challenge, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Cialdini, Marcus Buckingham, Kotter, Anthony Allessandra, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Amy Gallo, Goleman, and Travis Bradberry.

Sooner or later you will be the subject of vitriolic attack that feels personal.  When that happens read  

basking2's picture

Thank you!