Summary: Next to technical skills, soft skills are essential in order to succeed as an engineer. In this article 8 soft skills are presented including tips on how to master these skills.
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It was at the end of the last century. Together with a colleague I was sent to a conference in Amsterdam. It was about groundwater management for drinking water supply. One of the first conferences in my field. I was very enthusiastic. There were a lot of well-known hot shots in the field of geohydrology and I remember well what my colleague said to me after the conference. He was surprised that I knew so many people and that I approached everyone. That considered (I still do) that to be very normal. Apparently that is not the case for many other engineers.
It is one of the soft skills that really help me in my (professional) life. The contacts I made at this conference helped me with a number of major projects in the field of water supply in the United States and in the Netherlands.
Often, technical skills receive the most attention during an education or a job interview. But the soft skills such as communicating, presenting, negotiating and persuading are just as important in order to be a successful engineer.
This article is about 8 essential soft skills that can help you in your engineering career and personal life.
Actually, this is the most important key and that’s why I start with it. By talking to well-known engineers / scientists, I later had access to knowledge to complete projects successfully. Communication is about asking the right questions, listening, making eye contact or giving feedback (and asking for it).
How can you improve your communication skills?
- Let the other person finish talking. So try not to interrupt.
- Give someone a firm handshake today. Not too firm and not too weak. A firm handshake gives you more confidence.
As my colleague was standing at the coffee table, I walked up other people. It would have been easier and more pleasant to stay with him and chat. It took courage, as a young engineer, to talk to well-known geohydrologists.
But it also requires courage to admit mistakes, to call unfamiliar people by phone or to do something other than what you are used to do.
What can you do to be more courageous?
Do something that you normally would not do today:
- Call your colleague and ask for help with a problem you are currently struggling with.
- Go out for lunch today with colleagues from another department.
With compassion I mean the ability to understand and feel the position of someone else (also read my article on empathy). This includes the dominant boss or the always present, sociable and enthusiastic colleague. Why should you want this? It makes communication easier because you make a connection where emotions and your own ego are left out.
What can you do to show more compassion?
- Be positive and do not expect too much from others.
- Do not expect the other person to know all the details of a project and do not be too strict. This also applies to yourself…
Perhaps you are very good at the things you do and they have always worked. In order to improve and grow, you will have to learn new skills. New ways of thinking, new ways to deal with others, but also new knowledge in your field. Curiosity will help you with this.
What can you do today to learn something new?
- Surround yourself with people who know more than you do. Go to meetings or take part in online forums in your field or a theme of which you want to learn more about.
- Listen to Podcasts.
In different situations it is good to adapt to the people who are around you but also to what is expected of you. For example, I used other words with field staff than when having a discussing with a large real estate company. It is not that you suddenly become another person. Remain yourself and be authentic but be flexible and do not stick to the communication style that you are used to. So be open to signals that you get and respond to them accordingly.
How can you increase your adaptability?
- Maybe you always ask the same questions in conversations. Try asking questions that start with “WHAT” or “WHO”.
- Manage conflicts. This can be done, for example, by dealing with the elephant in the room.
- Try something new (what you have learned recently).
An important soft skill of an engineer is the ability to work together or to work in a team. You need different people in your project team who can work well together to ensure that a project runs smoothly. This also includes the draftsman, the engineer, the project manager, the field worker and the secretary.
What can you do to collaborate well together?
- Ensure that the goal of the project is clear to everyone and express expectations.
- Be honest (see also “Courage”).
- Show interest in the challenges of a team member (see “compassion”).
An engineer solves problems (challenges). That means that he / she uses his / her ingenuity, his / her creativity to innovate. I can imagine that you are wondering to what extent this is a soft skill. It is about taking your technical skills one step further by, for example, combining knowledge, testing or sharing knowledge.
How can I become more creative as an engineer?
- Start now and say yes! Do not collect all the parameters or requirements (that takes a lot of time).
- Participate in projects that are not necessarily within your field of expertise. Be curious.
- Think like a genius. Ask yourself what that famous engineer you are looking up to, would do in your situation.
- Work out the worst idea.
In this article you will find techniques for Engineers to be more Creative.
8. Time management
We engineers want to do everything as good as possible. We want to be sure that all preconditions have been taken into consideration and that there are no more uncertainties. A disadvantage of this is that it can cost a lot of time (and money). It may also be possible that expectations that have been made cannot be met (see “Collaboration”). It is therefore important to focus on the things that have to be done, within the agreed time frame.
How can you improve your time management?
- Make smaller tasks and keep the goal in mind.
- Read this article on how to be more productive.
- Step away on purpose. Maybe you are constantly being consulted as an expert. That means you cannot get to work. Occasionally close the door, switch off your phone or work for a part of the day somewhere else where you cannot be disturbed.
In short, take action! Stop waiting, analyzing or reasoning. By taking action you are already practicing a soft skill!
Take action now!
Are you an engineer with good technical skills? Do you want to be more successful by improving your soft skills? I can help you with coaching & training. Contactme today!
What are, according to you, essential soft skills for engineers? Let me know in the comment box below. I, and other readers of this article look forward to read from you!
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