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12 Must-Have Skills for Engineering Managers

As an engineering manager, you should possess certain skills to be successful. Here are the 12 must-have skills for engineering managers!

By Mara Calvello  •   October 3, 2022  •   7 min read

Transitioning from a software engineer role to an engineering manager role is an exciting time.

You’ve put in the hard work and likely have a long list of skills within your arsenal, many of which prove you’re the right person for the job. Learning what an engineering manager’s must-have skills are can set you and your team up for success.

Fellow breaks it all down to ensure you confidently start this new role!

What does an engineering manager do?

No matter the industry or the size of an organization, the role of an engineering manager typically looks about the same—the role is usually a mix of leadership responsibilities, organizational tasks, and administrative duties.

The engineering manager’s role consists of hiring new team members, supervising the current team of engineers, and identifying training opportunities, so everyone continues to grow and improve. It’s also up to them to understand concepts surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) while looking out for signs of burnout amongst their team.

While the day-to-day to-do list may change over time, the engineering manager is ultimately responsible for helping their team complete software as expected, on schedule, and within the given budget.

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12 must-have skills for engineering managers

There are many skills an engineering manager has to have in their wheelhouse to do their job as effectively as possible. If you’re just starting as an engineering manager, here are 12 must-have skills to perfect.

1Problem-solving skills

First up: problem-solving skills. The best engineering managers at any company know how to rally their team together to solve problems. This can be done by understanding the strengths of every engineer on your team and using their abilities to accomplish both the team and organizational goals in the long run. 

As the team leader, it’s common for other engineers to come to you for advice, guidance, and actions related to problem-solving. The ability to problem solve can be learned over time and encompasses having strong analytical skills, too. 

Whether it’s problems related to how the team works together, a bottleneck that has come up with the code, or a project potentially being delivered past the due date, it’s up to the engineering manager to think critically and determine the best possible solution.

2Project management skills

Next up, it’s time to flex your project-management skills

Part of supervising your team is overseeing a project from start to finish. This may mean deciding on a budget, allocating resources, coordinating communication amongst various people, and checking that deadlines are met.

Some skills an engineering manager needs to help their teams work together and deliver the product in time include:

  • A thorough amount of knowledge on each ongoing project
  • The ability to multi-task and stay organized 
  • A functional understanding of project management tools
  • Precision and attention to detail

3Effective communication skills

It’s crucial that all types of managers, not just engineering managers, know how to communicate effectively

An engineering manager needs to know how to communicate with their team, clients, executives and members of the C-suite, and coworkers in other departments. This type of manager needs to know how to negotiate with others, quickly resolve issues through dialogue, and be a good listener.

To be an effective communicator, consider the four types of communication and how you can improve at each within your role:

  1. Verbal: Occurs through speech and is usually face-to-face, over the phone, or via video calls.
  2. Nonverbal: Is typically through body language, facial expressions, and eye contact.
  3. Written: Means sending a message using written words, sometimes through email or direct messaging.
  4. Visual: Is the use of graphs, images, screenshots, and models, sometimes through a presentation or slide deck.

4Emotional intelligence

The next skill to master is emotional intelligence (EQ), which is how you understand, manage, and positively use your emotions. A strong EQ is typically handy during stressful situations as it can help show empathy, diffuse conflict, and overcome difficult situations. Engineering managers who are tuned into their emotions, plus the feelings of their team members, make more effective leaders. 

It’s crucial that you take the time to listen to and talk with your team while showing compassion and empathy for their individual issues, questions, and concerns.

5Great attention to detail

It’s the little things that can turn a good engineering manager into a great engineering manager. One of those little things is attention to detail. This means picking up what others may miss, whether it’s the strengths and weaknesses of the engineers on your team, who works best with others versus who works best alone, and small mistakes in a line of code.

6Technical skills

It should go without saying that an engineering manager should have a background in, you guessed it, engineering! This means possessing technical skills and up-to-date knowledge of engineering practices, software, frameworks, and processes is a must. Strong technical skills will also earn you respect amongst your team, especially if you’re new to the role or the organization. 

7Delegation skills

No matter how productive you are as an engineering manager, getting everything done can be impossible.  Because of this, it’s crucial to practice delegating. When you delegate tasks, projects, to dos, or action items to the engineers on your team, it helps to empower them, build trust with one another, and assist in growing their personal development. 

Delegating to your team can also instill advanced knowledge as colleagues are given new responsibilities where they can develop their skill sets. Remember, when delegating effectively, you need to set clear expectations with your direct report, play to their strengths, provide thorough feedback, and show appreciation once the task is complete.

8Time management skills

Being good at managing your time will help you avoid stress and produce high-quality work and be a better manager, too! Improving your time management skills and knowing how to use the workday to your full advantage can be challenging. But, once you find a strategy that is best suited to your personality, you’ll feel more productive, organized, and accomplished.

How you flex your time management skills is up to you, but an excellent place to start is by looking at your list of things to do at the start of each week, ranking these tasks by priority, and time blocking your schedule to get the most important tasks done first. Delegation can help here, too!

9Ability to maintain a work-life balance

What if we told you that finding and maintaining a healthy work-life balance really is possible? Having a work-life balance means that you have enough flexibility within your role as an engineering manager to prioritize your well-being and thrive in the workplace with little stress. 

To accomplish this, you need to feel supported at work, keep your time working to under 40 hours a week or less, and have the tools to do your job successfully. If you constantly feel stressed at work, often think about work on the weekends, or are losing sleep over your to-do list, it’s time to make a change.

If you can’t maintain a work-life balance, your team will pick up on the fact that your work-life balance needs, well, work! 

10Ability to provide effective feedback

Your team depends on you for several things, but as their manager, one of the skills you have to have is the ability to provide effective feedback.

There are many ways that you can provide feedback to your engineers. In addition to using a feedback tool like Fellow, you can also automate feedback requests, use the feedback sandwich, and always listen to both sides of the story. Whether the feedback is positive or negative, it can always feel a little intimidating. But, providing this feedback can make you a better manager and help your team members grow, improve, and understand their strengths and weaknesses.

11Ability to foster trust between team members

If you want to be the type of engineering manager to whom your team can always go for questions, concerns, or comments, you need to foster trust with them. Having a high level of trust amongst your team can improve employee engagement, giving your employees a boost of happiness and satisfaction in their roles.

To get started building trust, be sure to take the time to get to know every member of your team. Trust can’t exist until you have a positive relationship with your engineers. You should also schedule consistent one-on-one meetings with your team and always take their feedback seriously. 

12Ability to motivate team members

Last but not least, great engineering managers know how to motivate their teams. This skill can boost morale, help embrace change, and bring the team together when times get tough.

Not sure how to motivate your engineers? Consider:

  • Having more effective and productive meetings
  • Fostering a sense of community
  • Being as transparent as possible
  • Communicating the purpose of the work your team is doing 
  • Providing regular employee recognition

Be the best manager you can be

As you transition from an engineer to the team’s manager, you’ll likely be faced with several opportunities where these 12 skills will be put to the test. Having good hard and soft skills is essential to manage the team properly and ensure everyone is successful. Remember that you were given this job for a reason—have confidence in your skills while also knowing there’s always room for improvement!

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