Woman giving presentation in high tech computer lab.

Are you being overlooked for a leadership role? For many engineers, there is this awkward time in their career where they are starting to look at leadership roles, but their boss and others around them still only rely on them for their technical expertise. Though you may have a lot more value to offer your company in both your current engineering position and a future management one, no one may be noticing the potential but you. So, how can you stand out? Here a few tips on how to show leadership qualities in your current job.

1. Ask Better Questions

Don’t ask questions just to ask them and be thoughtful in the questions that you are asking. Oftentimes, the questions that you ask can be more powerful than the answers that you give because they get people to think deeper and involve others in the conversation. Look at the challenges that your company is facing and take time to really understand the underlying problem. Find the thought leaders in your company and seek out chances to ask them questions like:

  • What are we trying to accomplish here?
  • Why are we doing it the way we are doing it currently?
  • What does success look like?
  • What happens once we have success? What does that mean?

Real Life Example:

Often the problem being worked on is not the real problem. Recently I was working with a company who had a lot of effort in developing prototypes. But they needed to ask what the purpose of the prototype was. They needed to win over investors. Once a few questions were asked – they realized they needed less work to get in front of investors – at a savings of $200k.

2. Ask for Counsel

Everyone likes to be asked for advice. Actively look for feedback on projects that you are working on and ask leaders in the company how it fits into the bigger picture of what is happening in the company. This will create opportunities for discussions about the wider vision for the company and a chance to ask some of those questions above.

Real Life Example:

A colleague knew there were opportunities for her to contribute to her new team, but she was not sure how her part fit into the larger vision her boss had for the company. During a regular meeting with her boss, she made a point of asking for feedback on her work, asked questions about the bigger plan for the company, and volunteered to help in areas where she knew her past experiences and strengths could be beneficial. By asking for feedback from her boss on how she was already contributing, she was then able to ask how she could contribute in bigger ways.

3. Make Meetings Count

There are very few people that like meetings, but there are a few things that you can do to make those meetings count more:

  • Listen for the purpose of the meeting. The REAL purpose.
  • Ask the “elephant in the room” question. You are not the only one who wants to know the answer.
  • Ask the question behind the question – in other words – keep asking why.

Real Life Example:

A friend started paying attention to the purpose of the meetings that droned on all day. He started asking the obvious question. Before the meetings he would ask the purpose. Often with one phone call before the meeting, he solved the problem. The result was no meeting and a savings of wasted time. When he does find himself in a meeting, he asks about the desired outcome. His simple questions of meeting purposes has him labeled as the “get it done” guy.

4. Bring People Together

Be the one who knows of the other technology people who should be at the table. They may be in the same company or they may be leaders within the area that you are discussing. This will help you be seen as a facilitator for connecting people and ideas and it will help you become a go-to source for information.

Real Life Example:

I was working as a consultant for a large organization. A few rows over from where I was meeting was another team working on a significantly different problem. But – one of them knew me and knew I had expertise in their area. Soon, I was brought in to help solve their problems. The real winner (for me and them) was the person who introduced me.

Are you ready for a leadership role?

Being a manager in an engineering or technical field requires more than natural leadership qualities. If you are preparing to move into a management position, we invite you to schedule a time to talk with us about your career goals and ways to accomplish them. Use the form above or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to start the conversation.

About IEM

The Master of Engineering with a concentration in Information Engineering Management (IEM) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a specialized concentration designed primarily for engineers and people in technical positions. The concentration presents business systems and soft skills in a curriculum that is based on actual engineering industry needs and is offered completely online.