There’s been a significant growth of executives in various engineering sectors across the market over recent decades. With over 30% of Fortune 500 chief executive officers holding some form of engineering degree, they outnumber MBA holders by a significant degree, and the pipeline of engineer to CEO is well established—but why are executives so crucial within engineering?
In this guide, we’ll explore executives' roles in the engineering sectors, highlighting their importance and the typical duties they’ll be responsible for. Alongside this, our guide discusses the range of leadership styles in engineering jobs, highlighting how business leaders get the best out of their people.
Why are Executives Important in all Engineering Sectors?
Executives play a crucial role in all engineering sectors, from the mechanical and electrical fields to automotive and aerospace engineering jobs. Balancing business expertise with the acumen they’ve built up through time-served experience in technical jobs, candidates for executive roles within engineering are ceaseless learners, always looking for that next piece of knowledge that can give them a competitive and professional edge, enabling them to manage their teams effectively and collaborate with their partners in the board and executive team with skill.
So, what niche do executives fill, and what responsibilities does the average executive in one of the various engineering sectors possess?
Executive Leadership Traits
The engineering sectors are addressing some of global society’s biggest challenges, from public healthcare to climate change. With a broad range of executive leadership traits, a business leader can help to mobilise the various teams and supervisory staff under them to commit to and realise a vision with truly transformative potential. There are a broad range of leadership styles in engineering, but whichever approach an executive chooses, they’ll aim to support their team and internal stakeholders.
By guiding employees and ensuring thoughtful strategic planning, engineering executives can help boost safety and ensure that the organisations they work for foreground the environment in all decisions. Meanwhile, their expertise means they can win the respect of those working technical jobs, fully understanding not only their work but the pain points they’re likely to encounter when they’re completing that work, too.
As a result, executives in engineering sectors must possess strengths in collaboration and communication. If they’re not able to engage their colleagues and align them to work towards a shared goal—whilst at the same time conversing with non-technical stakeholders, both internally and externally—they’re likely to struggle to meet their responsibilities.
Translating Organisational Strategy into Actionable Targets
Effective executive leadership is vital when it comes to turning broader organisational visions into actionable targets and goals for their teams. Executives are the keepers and executors of these business-critical strategies. They always keep the big picture in mind while boiling down complex and multifaceted objectives into understandable tasks that align with the skills of those in technical jobs.
It’s crucial that anyone thinking of the transition to an executive role in one of the engineering sectors is prepared to understand the lengths they need to go to ensure that everyone within the business is clear on the organisational strategy and the role they will play in bringing it to fruition.
This duty isn’t just vital from the standpoint of ensuring that all members of the workforce are clear on precisely what their employer’s vision is, but also allows team leaders and other management staff to define the resources or additional personnel and funding they’ll need to make that vision a reality. By clarifying all aspects of their business vision, executives in engineering sectors can earn the buy-in of technical staff.
Often, there are time constraints around the responsibility of translating the organisational strategy into actionable targets—with one of many executive leadership traits being the ability to balance long-term and short-term goals to ensure all teams are able to fulfil their duties.
Striking the Balance Between Efficiency, Profit, and Safety
Executives in the engineering sectors must focus on balancing a range of priorities that foreground operational efficiency, the safety of their staff, and the profitability and competitiveness of their organisation. This includes determining the correct amount of finances to devote towards measures to mitigate the risk of workplace accidents whilst ensuring that projects are still completed on time and within budget.
A 2023 survey of 500 global executives conducted by McKinsey & Company found that at least 70% highlighted improving efficiency as a major priority for their organisations over the coming years. By empowering their employees and moving resources to where they’re most needed, they can improve the speed at which they make decisions, increase profitability, and ensure they’re resilient when eventual setbacks arise.
Balancing these three key areas means that an executive can ensure that the decision-making process within their organisation is speedy and effective, enabling them to swiftly respond to roadblocks and issues as they arise without the typical chaos that can be caused by the need to react to business-critical issues.
The Duties of an Executive in Various Engineering Sectors
Whilst there’s no “usual day” for an executive in one of the engineering sectors, with tasks and responsibilities varying according to the projects underway, the stakeholders they’ll be meeting with, and the managers they’ll be interacting with, there are some general duties that they’ll encounter with some regularity, including:
Helping teams solve technical issues. Whether it’s providing the personnel and resources their staff in technical jobs require or offering their own technical expertise, executives will ensure that their workforce can complete project-critical duties.
Delivering measurable value to customers. Executives within engineering sectors often work at the highest level, reserving most of their time for tactical work, strategic planning, and workforce management.
Maintaining productivity and velocity. Engineering executives will work with managers and the leaders of other departments to ensure that anything standing in the way of project completion—from production issues to ineffective communication—is removed.
Executives in engineering sectors play a vital role in ensuring that their businesses have the visionary leadership and technical nous required to remain competitive within a marketplace characterised by rapid shifts in consumer demands and economic circumstances. They’re often working at a high level, ensuring the firm has the tactical strategy in place to achieve success.
Leadership Styles in Engineering Jobs
When we look closely, we see a broad range of executive leadership styles in engineering jobs, with some business leaders focusing on the actions and attitudes of their workforce to influence and get the best out of them and others modifying their approach based on the situation at hand.
As a result, the following list isn’t intended to be an exhaustive explanation of the different leadership styles found in engineering sectors but rather acts as a definition for the different blends of executive leadership traits that enable business leaders to succeed in their highly technical jobs. In short, effective leadership candidates will often exhibit a range of these styles, even if one is their “primary” approach to leadership challenges.
Providing their workforce with the impetus for innovation and creativity, envisioners within engineering jobs take risks and think outside of the box, using their charisma and technical expertise to inspire the buy-in of their colleagues on the executive team and board.
Executives in the different engineering sectors will typically have a clear goal in mind, knowing in detail where they plan to take their organisation—even if getting there will be something of a work in progress.
The Strengths of Visionary Executive Leadership Traits
Envisioners are often relied upon to lead their business in new, exciting, and profitable directions, generating fresh ideas and bringing their highly innovative approach to bear on the problems encountered in engineering jobs. They often find it easy to motivate others to achieve a common goal, meaning they’re skilled in aligning their workforce to all pull towards the same target.
The Weaknesses of Visionary Executive Leadership Traits
Focused more on the big picture, envisioners may struggle to define how they will implement their goals. Luckily, within the engineering sectors, there is no shortage of highly skilled managers who can refine a visionary leader’s ideas and realise their innovative plans.
As you can likely guess from their namesake, analysers make decisions and ensure that their organisational strategies are rooted in data and information. With a strong attention to detail, they bring the technical skills of logic and rationality to bear on their complex challenges.
The Strengths of Analytical Executive Leadership Traits
Truly embodying the executive leadership traits of a tactician, analysers make decisions based on the facts of the matter, rather than being swayed by their intuition and emotion. By analysing trends and extrapolating from the existing data, they can often anticipate and act on shifts in the market as—or even before—they occur, keeping their organisations agile and resilient.
The Weaknesses of Analytical Executive Leadership Traits
Analysers may lack the creativity and innovation that the envisioner brings to the table or may struggle with communicating their ideas in a way that’s easily understood. This means they’ll need to brush up on the executive leadership traits of communication and translation to ensure that they’re making themselves clear to those in technical jobs.
When it comes to leadership styles in engineering jobs, feelers are those who prioritise empathy and staff well-being—building strong relationships with their workforce to ensure that they earn buy-in for their strategies.
The Strengths of Empathic Executive Leadership Traits
Feelers are able to understand, navigate, and manage the often complex emotions and relationships that arise in the engineering workplace, ensuring that staff have somewhere to turn to discuss their issues, challenges, and any other problems faced. Their compassionate and nurturing approach ensures that they’re able to inspire their team members to realise their vision, mitigating and resolving conflicts between employees.
The Weaknesses of Empathic Executive Leadership Traits
Often finding it difficult to make the tough decisions that may prove unpopular, feelers can struggle with holding their team accountable and providing constructive—albeit negative—feedback. As a result, they can often take on too much responsibility to achieve the results demanded of them, risking burnout or low well-being.
Engineering doers' most proactive leadership styles focus on results and are typically highly driven to achieve their organisational and strategic goals. This means that their teams see them as decisive, confident, and efficient, with a willingness to get involved in the engineering jobs that need to be done.
The Strengths of Action-Focused Executive Leadership Traits
By knowing what needs to be done, doers can make quick decisions and avoid the impasse that the other executive leadership styles can come to when faced with reactive work. They’re skilled project managers with a strong work ethic—meaning they’ll often go above and beyond to ensure they’re hitting targets and getting the best from their team.
The Weaknesses of Action-Focused Executive Leadership Traits
Much like the feeler—although for different reasons—doers can risk burnout from a failure to delegate tasks, typically taking the lead when it could be handed off to another employee or manager. As a result, they’re often focused on short-term goals at the expense of the visionary’s big picture, struggling to build strategic partnerships due to their emphasis on results.
Final Thoughts on the Role of Executives in Engineering Sectors
Executives are critical in various engineering sectors, where they’re expected to utilise diverse approaches to drive results. With leaders exhibiting a broad range of executive leadership styles in engineering, their expertise and guidance are instrumental in addressing any organisation's challenges.
By driving innovation and maintaining competitiveness within the landscape of engineering jobs, these leaders blend the qualities of visionaries, analysers, feelers, and doers, bringing unique strengths to their roles.
Their ability to translate organisational strategies into actionable targets is essential for long-term success in the engineering industry. As they strike a balance between efficiency, safety, and profitability, executives in the engineering sectors continue to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of these industries. Their expertise and understanding ensure transformative change, making them indispensable to the everyday functions of those in technical jobs.
Specialist Recruitment and Executive Search for Engineering Sectors
At MCS, we’re dedicated to supporting technical jobs and the broader engineering industry. We have a strong track record of executive appointments with major firms in the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, and the United States. We’re experts in connecting ambitious and passionate executives with the best roles across various engineering sectors.
If you’re looking to learn more, contact us to speak to one of our specialist consultants.