Workshop 4: What is Engineering Leadership?

Meryl Britto; John Donald; and Technical Editor: Faith Miller-Koren

LEARNING OBJECTIVES                                                                                                                                 

As part of the GEL program, these workshops are designed for engineering students to develop personal and professional leadership skills, and to see leadership as an integral part of their engineering identity. In this workshop, we will be branching out into leadership domain 2 and 3, team and organizational leadership. 

Following this workshop, students will be able to:

  • Reflect on their personal leadership style.
  • Identify the qualities of a 21st century engineer.
  • Analyze their engineering leadership capabilities.


Jamieson, M., & Donald, J. (2020). Building the Engineering Mindset: Developing Leadership and Management Competencies in the Engineering Curriculum.



This workshop will be split into three main parts:

  1. Personal Leadership
  2. Engineering Leadership
  3. The 21st Century Engineer



WHAT ARE VALUES?                                                                                                                                       

In Workshop 1: Self Awareness & Self Leadership, students learned about the importance of values. Let us look back for a moment and see what a value really is.

“A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important… Living into our values means we do more than profess them, we practice them.”

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Ebury Publishing.

Values are important in your everyday life, and most likely when making an important decision, you fall back onto your values. They are also important in leadership because knowing your values, being able to talk about them, and trying to understand other people’s values makes you a better team player.

REFELCTING ON YOUR PERSONAL VALUES                                                                                             

Before beginning the rest of the workshop, pick 2-3 values from the list below that resonate with and are important to you. Write these values down on a piece of paper and keep them in mind as we go through this workshop activities and learn about engineering leadership.


Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Ebury Publishing.

PERSONAL LEADERSHIP                                                                                                                              

To be a good and effective leader, we MUST first analyze and reflect on our personal leadership style. Leadership is a fluid practice. There are a variety of different leadership styles, as an effective leader it is our responsibility to be able to communicate and understand the various styles. This will allow for you to better understand and communicate with others, allowing you to increase your self-knowledge and authenticity.

ACTIVITY 1: LEADERSHIP STYLE SURVEY                                                                                               

The first activity in this workshop is found in the book “The Platinum Rule” by Tony Alessandra and Michael O’Connor. In this activity, they ask you to complete an 18 question survey, to help determine your personal style of leadership. You can use the worksheet here to complete this sourced activity.

More information on this survey activity and the leadership styles can be found in the book.

The Platinum Rule eBook by Tony Alessandra, PhD - 9780446553872 | Rakuten Kobo CanadaAlessandra, A. J., & O’Connor, M. J. (1998). The platinum rule: Discover the four basic business personalities–and how they can lead you to Success. Grand Central Publishing.


ACTIVITY 1: KEY TAKEAWAYS                                                                                                                       

This activity aimed to show you that you do not only belong to one style of leadership, but may find yourself in different quadrants throughout your career. It allowed you to acknowledge which style you may work well with or not, and understand the advantages and disadvantages of your style.

ENGINEERING LEADERSHIP                                                                                                                         

Leadership alone is a difficult world to define, let alone the term “engineering leadership”.

Before beginning this section of the workshop, take a moment to reflect on the following question:

As an engineering student, what qualities would you use to describe an engineering leader?

Some of the following answers were given by other engineering students:

  • Someone who makes teams more effective
  • Someone who focuses on ethics
  • Leading by example
  • Good communicator
  • Organized
  • Someone who knows the end goal

DEFNINING ENGINEERING LEADERSHIP                                                                                                    

In the paper, “What is Engineering Leadership?”, Robyn Paul, Arindom Sen, and Emily Wyatt proposed two definitions of the term “engineering leadership” – one from 2002 and one from 2018. Let’s take a look at these definitions below and compare their meanings.


“Engineering leadership is the process of envisioning, designing, developing, and supporting new products and services to a set of requirements, within budget, and to a schedule with acceptable levels of risk to support the strategic objectives of an organization.”


“Engineering leadership is an approach that influences others to effectively collaborate and solve problems. Engineering leadership requires technical expertise, authenticity, and personal effectiveness. Through engineering leadership, individuals and groups implement transformative change and innovation to positively influence technologies, society, and the world at large”

Paul, R., Sen, A., & Wyatt, E. (2018). What is Engineering Leadership? A Proposed Definition. American Society for Engineering Education.

It is important to notice that there are several different definitions of engineering leadership. The 2002 definition is quite restrictive in terms of leadership, whereas the 2018 definition is a better representation of engineering leadership today, and encompasses the idea of the 21st engineer. This 2018 proposed definition provides a foundation for a clear understanding of the what, the how, the who and the why of engineering leadership.

THE 21ST CENTURY ENGINEER                                                                                                                      

Why is it important to address the topic of the 21st century engineering?

As students, we are all incoming engineers, whether or not you have had technical experience in your field. It is important to develop and acknowledge your leadership capabilities as an engineer in the 21st century.

ISSUES CONFRONTING THE 21ST CENTURY ENGINEER                                                                         
  • As technology continues to evolve, engineering education must continue to evolve too.
  • While engineers remain strong in their technological skills, they are generally weak in their management and communication capabilities

Galloway, P. (2008). The 21st Century Engineer. American Society for Engineering Education.

“Everything you are taught now will most likely become irrelevant by the time you graduate”

-Anthony Fasano, Author of ”Engineer Your Own Success”


Anthony Fasano is the founder of Engineering Management Institute, a company focused on helping engineering organizations develop effective managers and powerful leaders. Today’s engineers are faced with challenges that are vastly different from the challenges faced by previous generations. These challenges include global commercial competition, intelligent technology, and a constantly changing work environment. Academic curricula does not always adjust to the new realities and there is a increasing gap between education and what is demanded in the market. Therefore, we need to be more willing and open to the idea that through our curriculum we have learned so many leadership skills – we just don’t realize it or use them.

Fasano, A. (2019, October 21). Engineering in the 21st Century: 3 Most Essential Basics to Remember. Retrieved from Engineering Management Institute:
WHY ENGINEERS MAKE GOOD LEADERS?                                                                                               
Our world is dominated by complex systems that challenge the human mind. Engineers have the skills and capabilities to understand these systems, while being an effective leader. Engineers by nature are also methodical, analytical and detail-oriented people. They are trained to understand the minute details of a machine, a program or a system. Engineers are taught to think analytically and systematically. Leadership skills build on these strengths to make you a more effective engineer.
As engineers, we already have many of the capabilities to be a good leader, such as effective time management, problem solving, attention to detail, and strong technical knowledge. We just need to recognize this and identify ourselves as people who can create change in todays society.
ACTIVITY 2: CASE STUDIES                                                                                                                        
In this activity, there are four case studies based on different engineering leaders, who all have an engineering background but chose to go into different fields.
These case studies can be found using the links below:
Case Study 1 – Jeff Bazos
Case Study 2 – Larry Page
Case Study 3 – Jessica Mckellar
Case Study 4 – Mary Barra
After reading the case study, answer the following questions:
  1. Why do you believe they are a successful leader?
  2. What are the impacts that they have on their employees and organizations?
  3. Out of the 4 leadership styles which one(s) do you believe this leader is?
  4. As a 21st century engineer, what qualities were you most attracted too?
  5. Which traits would I want to emulate from this leader?

ACTIVITY 2: KEY TAKEAWAYS                                                                                                                  

Different successful people in different industries, with engineering or science backgrounds, can have different leadership styles. It is important to analyze these engineering leaders and their accomplishments, to see that we can all be successful as different types of leaders.

WHY DON’T MANY ENGINEERS IDENTIFY AS LEADERS?                                                                
When studying engineering, leadership may be simply overlooked. Engineering leadership depends on engineers first recognizing themselves as leaders. The engineering curriculum is extremely vigorous and often doesn’t include courses that trigger a leadership mentality. For individuals whose love of engineering comes from their technical problem solving skills, the sudden shift to resolving ‘‘people problems’’ or humanistic problems can feel both uncomfortable and un-engineer-like. Therefore the term ‘‘leadership’’ does not always resonate with engineers since their reputations are grounded in their technical strengths.
ENGINEERING LEADERSHIP CAPABILITIES                                                                                        
There are many leadership capabilities that can be applied for engineers. Professor Deborah Ancona, from the MIT Sloan School of Management, identified these capabilities, and we are going to discuss those that can can hopefully be integrated into your design groups or work lives. These capabilities will help you form life long engineering leadership traits.

1. Relating

  • Inquiring and Dialoging –Listening to others with the intention of genuinely understanding their thoughts and feelings.
  • Advocacy – The ability to clearly explain one’s own point of view or approach, advocate a position, and explain how one reached their interpretation and conclusion.
  • Structured Communications – Being able to create a strategy and structure to formal communications, and present information orally.

2. Making Sense of Context

  • Identifying a vision for the solution, and setting achievable goals for performance (including quality), budget and schedule.

3. Visioning

  • Identifying a vision for the solution, and setting achievable goals for performance (including quality), budget and schedule.
MIT Sloan School of Management. 2009. Interview with Professor Deborah Ancona.

ACTIVITY 3: ENGINEERING LEADERSHIP CAPABILITIES                                                              

In this activity, you will use the engineering leadership capabilities we have just learnt to reflect on your personal leadership style and general engineering leadership. If needed, go back to activity 1 to review your leadership style.

The worksheet for this activity can be found here or can be completed below. Fill out column 3 and 4 in the table.

Leadership Capabilities Definition Personal Leadership

Based on your personal leadership style, list behaviours that support or oppose this capability.

Engineering Leadership

Why is it important for you to develop this Leadership Capability to be an effective engineering leader?

  • Listening to others with the intention of genuinely understanding their views
  • Being able to negotiate to find mutually acceptable solutions

Ex. As a Relator, I find it very easy to understand peoples’ views and to compromise




Ex. Helps me to identify potential disagreements within my team



  • Identifying a vision for a solution, and setting achievable goals for performance




Making Sense of Context
  • Awareness of the Societal and Natural Context
  • Awareness of the Needs of the Customer
  • Understanding the implications of new science and technology
ACTIVITY 3: KEY TAKEAWAYS                                                                                                                
It is important to understand how our personal leadership style can be used to foster the 3 engineering leadership capabilities. Developing these leadership capabilities will help us to become effective leaders in any field we go in to.

WORKSHOP KEY TAKEAWAYS                                                                                                              

Developing strong ideas about leadership in engineering is the key to creating strategical and innovating engineers, who have a strong understanding of the issues confronting the 21st century engineer. In this workshop you were able to enhance personal leadership styles and hopefully takeaway the following key points:

  • Recognizing that there are many types of successful leadership styles.
  • Engineers have many great leadership qualities that we have learned through our curriculum, but many do not identify themselves leaders.
  • Understanding and analyzing professional leadership traits will lead to greater confidence in individual’s engineering identity.
  • Your leadership style can change throughout your career.


Click here to access the workshop worksheets.



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Guelph Engineering Leadership Workshops 2020-21 Copyright © by Meryl Britto; John Donald; and Technical Editor: Faith Miller-Koren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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