The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

A Bit of Advice…Notes for the Ambitious

July 11, 2013

By Stephen Buras, ECC Future Leader

A colleague recently asked if I had any advice on what he could do to improve his chances of becoming an Engineering Manager. This made me ponder what has worked for me over the years. So here is my answer.

Throughout my career I have always been a rule follower. The biggest frustration for a rule follower is when the rules do not provide clear and efficient guidance. In my experience, the best way to solve this frustration is to take responsibility for revising the rules. There is no doubt that when you identify a problem with a work process others are experiencing the same issues. Rather than complain about it, fix it. The leader is the person who recognizes the need for changes and works out a solution that makes sense for everyone.

Taking the initiative to improve the system or work process will lead to multiple benefits.

  1. You gain greater understanding of the system and almost instantly become the subject matter expert on the new and improved system.
  2. Others (including the boss) will perceive you as someone who is able to recognize problems and who is willing to put forth the effort to drive for improvements for everyone. Contrast this with the employee who just creates a work around to get past the problem for himself alone.
  3. Others will begin to seek your advice and counsel on other matters because they see you have a passion for improvement.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting that you fix the problem in a vacuum. Reach out to those affected and determine the real issues before making a recommendation on how to make improvement. Make sure you see the whole picture before making changes. Understand the intent of the work process before changing it. Once you've done your homework, be bold and make recommendations that will truly result in a better way of doing it for all.

One of the leadership principles that I believe has worked well for me is lead from the front. This can have several meanings. On the one hand, it means roll up your sleeves and get out there and fix it. But it also means demonstrate that you are willing to do whatever it takes and not just delegate the task to someone else. The art of delegation is another strong leadership attribute, but delegation is much more effective when your team recognizes that you are ready, willing, and able to do whatever it takes to help the team succeed.