Engineering is, in essence, problem-solving. A good engineer will be excited by an un-fixed problem because it provides opportunity to use techniques they’ve honed during their career, which are applicable to anyone’s own life or job. This is because as with any problem-solving conundrum, they’ll have an aim and limitations. These could include supplies, tools, budget and a timeframe, and from here, they’ll have to create a solution.
The solution is often reached via reverse engineering. For example, an engineer may take things apart to determine the problem and discover the solution by putting the object or system back together again. This type of problem-solving is a process that anyone can learn. Anyone can implement the steps an engineer takes to learn how to problem solve in an efficient and effective way – generally speaking, it’s down to logic.
However, some skills can’t be taught. Usually, these are labelled as “soft skills”, but they’re just as important as this problem-solving aptitude to be a leader in engineering. Leading a team to success takes technical knowledge and strategy, but it also requires adaptation and understanding. Let’s look closer.
Problem-solving requires a creative and curious mind
Problem-solving demands creativity. Many engineers will view creativity as part of problem-solving instead of defining it as a unique trait. Ultimately, finding solutions requires thinking outside of the box and using never-before-used methods, which is an inherently creative process.
Creativity is powered by curiosity. Staying up-to-date with the latest research, asking questions, and being open-minded is essential to being an innovative leader. This mindset will enable leaders to be collaborative and forward-thinking, sharing ideas with their team as much as taking their own ideas forward.
Open lines of communication and emotional intelligence
In a cold, hard facts STEM subject like engineering empathy might not be at the top of the list of expected qualities. Yet, it is vital to be able to engage with those who will be affected by your work, whether those are the members of your team or the end-user. Engineering is about making things work for people, and without empathy, your capacity to deliver on this imperative is fairly limited.
Empathy also leads to the importance of you being able to communicate well with your team. Communication isn’t just about transmitting; it’s also about receiving. Active listening can help your team be more motivated and empowered, knowing that their day-to-day successes and long-term goals are cared about can have a hugely positive impact.
Blending hard skills with soft to power problem solving
Problem-solving isn’t only about hard skills. It’s also about having the creativity and can-do mindset to arrive at new solutions. These innovative solutions should be underpinned by empathy and fostered by productive communication amongst a team. If problem-solving is indeed the essence of engineering, it’s as much about soft skills as it is any technical know-how. Skills can be taught – but attitude is inherent. It’ll be those with the right ones that become the leaders of the future.