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Workplace Research

Troost ILead's two-phase Engineering Leadership Project examines how engineers think about and enact leadership across their career trajectories. 

Connecting the experiences of professional engineers to leadership theory

Objectives

The Engineering Leadership Project set out to examine the relationship between engineering and leadership in order to better prepare undergraduate engineering students for workplace realities and societal impact.  

We posited that “engineering thinking” might have an impact on how engineers lead, providing us with an opportunity to construct a model of leadership unique to engineers. This model of leadership would:

  • Allow the University of Toronto to better prepare our engineering students for future leadership roles and career success.
  • Contribute evidence to the global discourse on engineering leadership.
  • Seed a new field of study on engineering leadership in professional practice

Findings

  • Engineers tend to resist the notion of leadership unless it is framed as professionally relevant.
  • The leadership orientations of engineers shift over time and across situations.
  • Three distinct orientations to engineering leadership emerged from our work:

1) Technical Mastery

2) Collaborative Optimization

3) Organizational Innovation

Which Engineer Are You?

TECHNICAL MASTER

(THE “GO-TO” SPECIALIST)

YOUR STRENGTHS

Insightful, analytically astute problem solving

Possesses a high level of pattern recognition

Performs detailed analyses of technical challenges

Listens to and understands others’ questions

Explains complex problems to a range of audiences with clarity

YOU’RE PERCEIVED AS

The subject matter specialist: the engineer you most often go to with your technical questions.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT:

Consider professional development that focuses on mentoring others and communicating complex topics in accessible ways.

What others say about Technical Masters:

“ There is one person who I go to… he is the go-to guy in our office when it comes to anything related to chemistry.”

“ Leadership is often implicit and you will be implicitly chosen by your peers. In a team, you are going to have somebody who just kind

COLLABORATIVE OPTIMIZER

(THE ULTIMATE TEAM PLAYER)

YOUR STRENGTHS

An interdisciplinary technical generalist

A skilled facilitator of group process with an eye for quality, efficiency and engagement

Possesses an exceptional ability to match project objectives, team member skills and resources

A team catalyst that facilitates interdependence, fosters growth through critical feedback and helps teams adapt to change and conflict

Inspires and motivates team members

YOU’RE PERCEIVED AS

The engineer who builds high-performing teams by bringing out the best in everyone. You are excellent at building bridges across different units and you leverage everyone’s strengths.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT:

Consider professional development that focuses on team building and co-operative problem-solving approaches.

What others say about Collaborative Optimizers

“ When working on group projects, you have to be able to delegate to the people within the team, and coordinate and deal with the interdependencies of different parts of the project getting done.”

“ If you throw me into one of these systems, I am not going to become the leader of the pack, but I am going to make it work better. I’ve found that I get thrown into more and more exciting packs. It’s like my colleagues

ORGANIZATIONAL INNOVATOR 

(THE VISIONARY)

YOUR STRENGTHS

Visionary realization of practical, entrepreneurial and intrepreneurial (change agent) ideas

Resourceful systems-thinker with “outside-the-box” thinking

Uses technical knowledge to drive growth

Anticipates and responds to market trends

Takes calculated risks and learns from mistakes

Identifies and secures resources to implement strategic plans on established timelines

YOU’RE PERCEIVED AS

The engineer whose creative ideas drive change within the organization.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

You may want to focus your professional development on business practices and organizational awareness.

What others say about Organizational Innovators

“Colleagues who I perceive as effective often have a broader picture of what is going on, so they know they are solving the right problem as opposed to just doing the best job solving this problem.”

“They can think outside the box and they aren’t just a cog or a store-bought engineer. They are actually identifying opportunities, and trying to establish best practices. They

Organizational Innovator Characteristics Poster
Collaborative Optimizer Characteristics Poster
Technical Master Characteristics Poster

Outcomes

ILead instructors have used a condensed, self-scored version of this survey to facilitate the leadership learning of engineering students and professionals.

Funders

The Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering Dean’s Strategic Fund and a consortium of companies (Hatch, Vale, ERCO Worldwide and Google Canada) funded this study.

Sharing our work with students and professionals at our Community of Practice conferences.

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Engineering Leadership Project, Phase II

Investigating how engineers learn to lead across their career trajectories

Down Arrow

Project Overview

Engineering Leadership Project II (ELP II) (2014-2021) investigates how engineers learn to lead across their career trajectories.

Funders

The Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering Dean’s Strategic Fund, the Ontario Human Capital Research Innovation Fund, and a consortium of companies (Hatch, ERCO Worldwide, Chemtrade Logistics, Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), Toronto Hydro, Accenture, Kijiji Canada, Enwave Energy Corporation and RL Solutions) are funding this study.

Phase One 2014-2016: Leadership Development During University

Used a large-scale survey to examine how undergraduate engineering students’ co-curricular and extracurricular involvement influenced their development as engineers and as leaders.

Implications for engineering education

Our findings from phase one have helped us engage university administrators and student life professionals in conversations about the impact of co-curricular involvement on engineering students’ leadership identity and skill development.

Phase Two 2015-2017: The School to Work Transition

Phase Two focused on the university-to-work transition of engineering graduates. It examined how junior engineers navigate the job market, adjust to their respective workplaces and practice leadership at this stage of their careers.  

Implications for engineering education

Phase two findings functioned as the cornerstone for two Community of Practice conferences with students and industry partners. In the final phase, we will use a leadership development survey with senior engineers and career history interviews with key informants to develop an evidence-based engineering leadership case study resource.

Phase Three 2018-2021: Senior Engineers & Situated Leadership Development at Work

Phase three examined the life long leadership development of senior engineers in a range of career paths.

In particular, we examined changes in their professional identities, situated learning resulting from proud moments, wisdom gained from struggles, and inequities in career path mobility and consequent leadership learning opportunities.

Moving Forward 2021 and Beyond: Pivoting to equity

Phase three has enabled our research program to pivot towards an examination of engineers’ career paths and the root causes of inequity.

 

© 2020 Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering