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Engineers - a different breed

Civil engineers often make good managers because they understand the multi-disciplinary nature of construction projects, says Garth Ward.

Two weeks ago, last year's civil engineering manager of the year Graeme Stewar t stated: 'I don't think that the skills required to make a good civil engineering manager are any different from those required for any other sor t of manager.' But training and development did make a difference, he added.

While traditional managers may fall into two basic types, it is not necessarily personality type that makes civil engineers good managers.

Neither do team roles make civil engineers different - team roles are about preferred behaviour and behaviour can be changed. Success depends on the ability to identify the state of development and motivation of the person one is leading.

Working with more than 100 MScs in project management at Cranfield School of Management, more than 500 project managers and some 2,000 aspiring project managers in the last 13 years has revealed for Ward key competencies which differentiate a project manager. None are specific to any one discipline.

If is not personality, team role, leadership style or competencies, it must be the training and development civil engineers receive that distinguishes them.

Civil engineers are trained to be more logical and disciplined - but this applies to all types of engineers. Therefore, it must be the development and experience gained 'on the job' which makes the difference.

Civil engineers have the opportunity to work with a range of contractors on a range of projects, while other disciplines are more likely to get stuck in only one of these areas. Further, they are not dominated by either the public or private sector.

Civil engineers learn about the physical aspects of the plant in design through liaison with other disciplines. They also gain a physical and spatial awareness, by the three-dimensional and tangible nature of the discipline. This encourages them to look at the bigger picture and provides them with a strong visualisation of the end product.

However, while the development of civil engineers equips them with an advantage in becoming good managers, the structure and divisive nature in which civil engineering is practised works against them.

Garth Ward is a consultant lecturer in project management at the Cranfield School of Management

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