Wanted: Engineers with Both Technical and Soft Skills
Engineers prepare for their career by honing specific skills as required by their chosen discipline. The principles and calculations are straight forward. Decisions tend to be black and white. Then the expert engineer is promoted only to find the new position requires both hard technical and soft people-focused skills.
Have you found yourself in this position? Or do you know someone who has? Only a small percentage of your days are focused on engineering challenges. Much of your day is spent addressing relationship building skills as you pull together cross-functional teams and assist with sales presentations. Problems are no longer clearly defined. Suddenly, you need to contend with many shades of gray.
It can be disconcerting to be a well-respected expert one day and a very confused team leader the next. Do not despair. Soft skills, or as I prefer, professional skills, only need a bit of focus and practice to begin to develop. The first item for you (or any new technical manager) to know is that often there is no right or wrong answer – the best answer will depend on many factors. You might even feel you are making solutions up as you go along. The fact – so does every other leader.
The second item is that you do not have to face uncertainty alone. You have a team of people, some of whom may have a broad understanding they can share. One of your most important skills to hone is your ability to ask a question, be quiet, and listen to the information that people provide you. If you are not ready to decide, ask more questions. People appreciate being a part of the decision-making process.
Asking questions and encouraging your team to engage in collaborative discussions to listen and learn from each other is a good first step toward building a professional skill set that is as strong as your technical skills.