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Business Management and the Civil Engineer

Business Management and the Civil Engineer

Business Management and the Civil Engineer

Today’s civil engineer is becoming a very well-rounded professional, equipped not only with the intense technical training the discipline is known for, but also adeptness in areas such as business management.

Whether looking to move up in an organization, or to branch out and become an independent consultant, today’s civil engineers know they need knowledge and experience beyond their general education. Abilities in leadership, communication and managing time, money and people are among the most valued business skills in any field, and can determine whether a business or consultancy succeeds or fails.

Building Management Skills

Managing financial resources: The projects civil engineers manage are often financed by government agencies. Cost estimates for the entire project or elements of the job, such as equipment, labor or materials, may be required to obtain funding. The engineer should be able to track expenses and measure results, and make adjustments as necessary. The engineer may also need to estimate construction costs for risk analysis. Training in accounting and statistics is helpful for managing budgets and finances.

Communication: A civil engineer who is leading a project will be working with supervisors, contractors and workers. Due to the precise nature of the work, he or she will have to be able to give clear instructions to the construction team. A civil engineer in a management role might also address the public, the press or environmental, government or civic groups to answer community concerns about the project. The engineer may have to discuss property descriptions, environmental impact statements or bid proposals with these groups. Often, an engineer will be responsible for issuing progress reports, so good writing and verbal skills are important.

Leadership and people management: Any professional who manages others should have training in leadership and human resources. Besides working with other engineers, architects and consultants, the civil engineer will engage with assistants and supervisors of tradespeople. The many team members on the project will be looking to the managing engineer to guide and resolve any problems.

This role also requires human resources skills, and could involve recruiting, hiring and firing staff. Working with a human resources specialist, the engineer should understand labor laws and trade union regulations and how they may impact budget costs. The engineer may also be responsible for enforcing safety rules on a construction site.

Data mining: Most engineers are scrupulous about collecting data when it comes to their technical projects. It also pays to be similarly driven to collect business information. Maintaining a spreadsheet on the type of project, the market sector, fee structure and how one came to win a project can help the engineer draw valuable conclusions about the business that may not be apparent otherwise. For example, an ASCE blog post explained how a civil engineering professional  such a spreadsheet to form the following conclusions.
1. Knowing what market sector most of his projects were coming from helped the civil engineer streamline his marketing efforts so he could concentrate on his strongest areas of expertise.
2. Knowing what type of projects he was concentrating most of his efforts in helped to underline his strengths in a particular type of project, which was useful for bringing focus to his business development plan.
3. Knowing how he was getting most of his projects helped him realize that business relationships figured more importantly than qualifications, fee or ability to perform multiple projects.

Managing time: Managing time is critical to successfully completing projects within the budget. A civil engineer should be mindful of practicing good time management for himself as well as ensuring that assistants and the construction crew do so as well. The ways a project can be delayed are numerous, so the wise manager will learn to be vigilant when it comes to time-wasting practices.

Learning how to delegate is one of the best ways to eliminate time wasting: if you are the type of engineer who’s used to going it alone, you may have to learn to trust others on your team to take care of the jobs that don’t require a supervisor’s touch. You will become a more effective manager, and use your team resources more efficiently.

Moving Into Management

Civil engineers who move into management may be supervisors or administrators. They might supervise a construction site or become an administrator for a governmental agency, such as a city engineer. They might also work as managers in design and research, or become chairs at an institution of higher learning.

Some civil engineers, after gaining experience as supervisors or administrators, decide they want to work on their own as consultants. Basic business management skills are a given for the successful consultant, but they will also need entrepreneurial skills. Entrepreneurs must take time to cultivate new clients, maintain a website and strategize a marketing campaign. Following up on leads for new business can be time consuming and frustrating, but it’s an important part of a business owner’s responsibilities to himself, clients, employees and partners.

Learning the skills required to be a successful business manager can be a challenge for the civil engineer, but can be attained through higher education, professional development opportunities and career coaching. Acquiring these skills are worth the effort in terms of greater salary potential, advancing up the career ladder and the satisfaction of becoming a more well-rounded individual.

Sources
Management Skills for Civil Engineers
From Engineer to Entrepreneur
The Emerging Engineer
What Civil Engineers Do

December 2015