Leadership & Organizational Management for the Business Savvy Engineer

28 Mar 2018 12:00 PM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

Leadership & Organizational Management for the Business Savvy Engineer
(Blog #3 EMBOK series)
by TA Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, CPEM

Business savvy engineers are found at all levels within an organization.  Last month, we learned that engineering managers are charged with planning and organizing work, allocating resources, and directing and controlling work activities.  In this post, we will drill down into the management skills, tools, and philosophies that a business savvy engineer needs to lead, direct, and organize resources effectively.


In Chapter 2 of the EMBOK, we are introduced to the Integrated Management Model.  The external environment is made up of customers, competitors, suppliers, vendors, and regulatory agencies.  The internal environment, on the other hand, includes all of the company’s staff, assets, and special capabilities.  We’ll dig deeper into the management systems, organization structures, and people orientations at the heart of the integrated management model.

Management Theories

Most leadership training programs today fully endorse the idea of motivation over punishment of workers.  You know the old adage that you get more with a carrot than a stick.  Thus, it is helpful for business savvy engineers to be familiar with the major philosophies and teachings regarding motivation.

First, Douglas McGregor proposed that managers make assumptions about workers which translate into behaviors.  Theory X is one in which managers assume workers are lazy, would rather be doing something else, and all they are about is their paycheck.  Theory Y managers, instead, assume workers are dedicated to the organizational goals and will act in ways to achieve these objectives.  Fortunately or unfortunately, our expectations often result in the outcome we support.

Next, Frederick Herzberg proposed that a manager can motivate workers to higher levels of performance through a two-factor model.  He identified minimal elements of a job that must be present to prevent worker dissatisfaction.  These are called hygiene factors and include safe working conditions, relationships with supervisors, and fair pay.

While Herzberg identified that the presence of hygiene factors prevents dissatisfaction, these elements do not motivate workers to higher levels of performance.  In contrast, motivating factors are often the least expensive for a firm to provide and will yield higher dedication to organizational goals.  These motivators include recognition, advancement, and responsibility.

Finally, psychologist BF Skinner’s behavioral research demonstrates that behavior that is rewarded will be repeated while behaviors that are ignored will be extinguished.  When leaders combine McGregor and Herzberg’s motivational theories with Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory, we - as leaders - are empowered to improve working environments for engineering and knowledge workers.  We also learn about ourselves and can improve our own management skills.

Organizational Structures

Business savvy engineers innately understand that cross-functional teams improve the effectiveness and efficiency in achieving project objectives.  Henry Mintzberg identified five basic organizational structures composed of the operating core, middle managers, upper management (called the “strategic apex”), technical support, and traditional support functions.  The relative power, influence, and concentration of these groups determines the speed of decision-making in an organization. 

The organizational structure must align with the firm’s strategic objectives in order to deliver long-term value.  Team structures may change with the maturity of an organization and/or the complexity of the project work as well.

People Orientation

Of course, no project or engineering work is done without people.  Business savvy engineers will recognize that they will need to adjust their leadership style to suit their environment.  For example, global teams include people from both high context and low context cultures.  In a high context culture, relationships reign supreme, while task completion takes center stage in low context cultures.  Engineering managers must negotiate a balance between team member needs and work performance.

If conflict arises, managers often act as mediators.  In this role, the engineering manager must ensure both sides are able to share their positions and s/he can negotiate an equitable outcome that allows the team to move forward.  Chapter 2 of the EMBOK presents a conflict model that illustrates the need to address issues as they arise, not allowing them to fester under the surface.  Furthermore, learning to apply conflict resolution and negotiation skills can benefit an engineering manager both inside and outside of the work environment.

Leadership and Organizational Structure

Chapter 2 of the EMBOK is packed with management and leadership theory that has stood the test of time.  Engineering managers bridge external and internal environments and understand their role in team motivation.  Creating the right organizational environment to empower people across all cultures leads to a satisfying and rewarding career.

Next month, we’ll delve into the role strategy plays for an engineering manager in a leadership position.  In the meantime, if you’d like to read the previous posts in this series, click here and you can learn more about becoming a Certified Professional Engineering Manager here.

Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is a Certified Professional Engineering Manager (CPEM) with a passion for lifelong learning helping individuals and companies achieve strategic growth through Global NP Solutions.  You can connect with Teresa on Linked In

Proud Corporate Members of ASEM Include



Lawrence Livermore

National Lab


Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software