Engineering Management Career Guide

by Matthew Sweeney
• 5 min read
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In addition to overseeing technical and engineering teams, engineering managers keep other engineers on track, provide mentorship, and bring large-scale projects to life.

Are you considering an engineering degree but unsure which direction to take? Engineering management offers opportunities for people with technical know-how, leadership skills, and an eye for detail. Also, engineering manager jobs pay well, offer job security, and may require only a bachelor's degree.

The best portal to an exciting career like this one is an engineering management degree. Read on to learn more about the field of engineering management and how to become an engineering manager, a job also known as:

  • Electrical engineering director
  • Engineering design manager
  • Engineering research manager
  • Global engineering manager
  • Mechanical engineering director
  • Process engineering manager

Is Engineering Management the Right Career for Me?

Before you dive into an engineering management career, consider whether it is the right choice for you.

People who typically succeed as engineering managers possess common personality traits. They are driven, detail-oriented, able to multitask, and are natural leaders. Engineering managers also need a creative vision, along with technical aptitude and a passion for understanding how things work.

You Might Enjoy an Engineering Management Career if You Are…

  • Self-motivated
  • Detail-oriented
  • Creative
  • Able to see "the big picture"
  • Technically adept
  • Curious how things work

What Do Engineering Managers Do?

Engineering managers design, plan, and direct projects and other activities within engineering companies. They also sign off on and oversee the development of such projects.

These specialized managers can be found in offices, construction sites, and research laboratories. They typically work in the manufacturing, engineering, and research industries, or for the government. An engineering manager directs a team of engineers and checks their work for technical accuracy. They also communicate daily with other managers.

Finally, engineering managers plan and coordinate budgeting and financial concerns for projects. They also handle hiring for engineering companies and direct all stages of project development.

Engineering Manager Career Skills

Engineering management calls for hard and soft skills. Juggling multiple projects requires self-motivation and time management. Likewise, troubleshooting problems requires critical thinking skills. Also, leadership and communication skills allow engineering managers to work effectively with the teams they command.

Engineering managers need hard skills in project management and workflow development to navigate multiple projects. These skills may include a knowledge of engineering science, manufacturing processes, and computers.

Human Skills

  • Communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Leadership
  • Multitasking
  • Time management
  • Self-motivation

Hard Skills

  • Project management
  • Software and computer knowledge
  • Engineering science
  • Workflow development
  • Math
  • Knowledge of manufacturing processes

Engineering Manager Job Overview

Engineering managers are top earners both among engineers and across the entire job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), architectural and engineering managers earned a median annual salary of $148,880 in 2020.

Engineering managers earn the most in the scientific research and development services and management of companies and enterprises industries, where they make $174,710 and $157,760 per year, respectively. In the two highest paying states for engineering managers, California and Colorado, they make even more: $188,940 and $178,120.

Top Paying Industries for Engineering Managers
Industry Median Annual Wage (2020)
1. Scientific research and development services $174,710
2. Management of companies and enterprises $157,760
3. Manufacturing $148,880
4. Architectural, engineering, and related services $148,120
5. Government $137,420
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Top Paying States for Engineering Managers
State Mean Annual Wage (2020)
1. California $188,940
2. Colorado $178,120
3. Texas $173,550
4. New Mexico $172,910
5. New Jersey $171,280
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become an Engineering Manager

There is no "right" path to becoming an engineering manager. However, most engineering management careers follow certain educational and professional steps to get started. They need a degree, extensive experience, and usually licensure.

1. Earn Degree(s)

To become an engineering manager, you first need an engineering-related bachelor's degree like one of the following:

  • Bachelor of science in engineering management (BSEM)
  • Bachelor of science in engineering (BSE) in engineering management
  • Bachelor of engineering in engineering management (BEEM)

An engineering management degree prepares prospective engineering managers for training, employment, and pursuing their master's. Some engineers become engineering managers without specifically pursuing an engineering management degree, though they typically hold at least a master's in a relevant major.

After earning your bachelor's, you should earn a master's in engineering management. Some engineering managers buffer their credentials with an MBA. When choosing an engineering management program, consider engineering management programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

2. Gain Work Experience as an Engineer

Once you earn your bachelor's, you can start looking for work. An engineering management or engineering's bachelor's prepares graduates for work as an engineer-in-training or engineering intern, working under a professional engineer's direction. Most employers, state boards, and certifying bodies expect four years of paid experience before you can become an engineering manager.

3. Earn State Licensure as an Engineer

Most states require engineering managers to hold PE licensure to practice. State licensure generally requires:

  • A bachelor's degree from an ABET-accredited program
  • Four years of work experience
  • Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exams

Both the FE and PE exams are administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). PE licensure is recommended even when not required by the state.

4. Become an Engineering Manager and Earn Certifications to Advance Your Career

Once you gain PE licensure and complete your master's degree, you are ready to move into an engineering manager role. You can then build on your career with a graduate or professional certification in engineering management.

Professional certifications for engineering managers are voluntary credentials that can boost your professional standing. Two notable examples include the Engineering Manager Professional Certification from the American Society for Engineering Management and a professional engineering manager certification from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

Common Questions About Engineering Managers

What Should I Major in to Become an Engineering Manager?

The surest route to an engineering manager position is a degree in engineering management. However, many engineering majors in college go on to work as engineering managers.

What Is Better: MBA or Engineering Management?

Engineering management is a better standalone major choice because it covers topics such as engineering management science and technical project management. Many engineering managers hold an MBA in addition to their engineering management degree though.

How Many Hours Do Engineering Managers Work?

Engineering managers work full time, which means that they work at least 40 hours a week. However, they often work overtime because they face pressure to meet deadlines while juggling different projects. This means that sometimes they work up to 100 hours a week.

How Many Years Does It Take to Become an Engineering Manager?

It typically takes 8-12 years to become an engineering manager: 4-6 years to complete a bachelor's and master's, followed by 4-6 years of professional experience.

Do Engineering Managers Make More Than Engineers?

Yes. A 2018 study from the BLS found that in 2016, all engineers made a median annual salary of $91,010. The same year, the median salary for engineering managers was $134,730, over $40,000 higher.

Matthew Sweeney received his Bachelor of Arts in English with a specialization in English literature from Portland State. His writings on music and culture have appeared in the publications Eleven PDX Magazine and Secret Decoder. In his free time he enjoys reading, cinema, hiking, and cooking.

Header Image Credit: Morsa Images | Getty Images

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