7 Tips for engineers who want to become better leaders

From the Career Conversations Series with Jean, Founder of Exaltitude
November 1, 2022
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As engineers, we are often tasked with completing technical tasks and leading and motivating teams to accomplish goals. Developing strong leadership skills can help us effectively guide our teams and successfully navigate various challenges in the workplace. Maybe you're a new manager or a tech lead trying to figure out how to lead effectively. Or perhaps you're an individual contributor looking to take on more leadership responsibilities within your organization. Whatever the case may be, here are 7 tips for engineers who want to become better leaders:

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What is engineering leadership?

Engineering leadership is the ability to motivate, inspire, and guide an engineering team to achieve a common goal. A leader's job involves not just technical expertise but also excellent communication skills, critical thinking, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving abilities. Being a leader means being able to not only handle technical tasks but also handle the responsibilities of managing people and successfully executing projects.

Engineering leaders empower people

Engineering leaders don't write code; they delegate and empower others to do their jobs. This means trusting your team members, giving them the resources they need, and giving feedback to help them improve. Focus on creating a positive work culture and ensuring everyone is treated with respect. A team that feels appreciated and valued will be motivated to do their best work.

At a certain point, your technical skills may become less important.

7 tips for developing engineering leadership skills

1. Set goals and vision for yourself and your team

Clarify what you want to achieve. The best environment to thrive is when your goals are aligned with the company's mission, and the team understands its role in achieving it. When your goals are out of alignment, you'll experience more internal or external friction.

Then align your team's goals with the overall company mission. This will help create a sense of purpose for everyone on the team. Each team member should also clearly understand their personal goals and how they contribute to the bigger picture.

2. Build relationships

Relationships building takes time, so start investing now. Take the time to get to know your team members, their strengths and weaknesses, interests, and career goals. Talk to them about their work and ask for feedback. Get to know them at a personal level. Showing genuine care for your team members can go a long way in developing trust and respect among your team.

You also want to build strong relationships with other engineering teams and stakeholders across the company. Good communication and cooperation across teams are crucial for successful project execution.

3. Learn to delegate

Engineering managers don't need to do everything themselves.

When I first transitioned to an Engineering manager, I was still contributing to the codebase until one day, I realized it took me a whole week to finish a simple task. This was delaying the team and not helping them. Delegating tasks and responsibilities to the team members not only free up your time but also empowers them and helps them feel more ownership.

When delegating, give clear instructions and guidelines for the task and check in periodically for updates. Checking in doesn't mean you should micromanage. Set up a framework or communication process to keep track of their progress and communicate the status with you asynchronously. Having more ownership of their work will also give them a sense of pride and accomplishment.

4. Keep it consistent

An engineering leadership position is usually a long-term commitment, so consistency is key. Be consistent with communication and setting expectations for your team through regular 1:1s and team meetings, give consistent feedback, and follow through with commitments. This helps to establish trust and predictability in the team dynamic.

I often talk to engineers who are struggling with frequent re-orgs (with large companies) or pivots (with startups). This can be incredibly disruptive and stressful for the team. Teams function better when they know what to expect from their leader. If they can't imagine their leader's goals or values, it's harder for them to align their own actions and set priorities.

5. Say no when necessary

You may be tempted to say yes to every request or project thrown your way. Isn't that how you build relationships with stakeholders?

But as an engineering leader, you need to prioritize and focus on what's most important for your team and the company, and sometimes that means saying no to certain engineering projects or requests.

This can be a difficult decision, but consider the impact on the team's workload and overall strategy for the organization.

What are the trade-offs and potential consequences? How does it fit into the team's overall goals and priorities?

Saying no diplomatically can also open up a conversation for better project planning and allocation of resources.

6. Tune into the situation

One of the most critical leadership skills is being able to adapt and read the situation. Everyone is unique in what motivates them, how they like to be praised, and how they prefer to communicate. Listen and ask them questions to adjust your style, as there is more than one way to communicate effectively with people.

How do they respond when you give them praise or criticism? Some people may prefer public recognition, while others might prefer private feedback.

What are their drives? Are they trying to move up in their career or seeking more work-life balance? Are they looking for leadership development opportunities or more responsibility?

Understanding individual team members can help tailor how you give feedback, delegate tasks, and provide growth opportunities.

7. Take notes

I used to work with a manager who was excellent at keeping track of everything. He had folders for everything, and he was so organized he can pull up notes from meetings that happened months ago or look up resumes from every employee. I was so impressed by him, it made a big impact on my habits.

If you're not the organized type, you can always start by taking notes--during 1:1s and team meetings. It will help you remember important tasks and keep track of what to follow up on, track progress, and provide more personalized feedback.

Keeping notes also helps with consistency in communication, as mentioned earlier. You can refer to past discussions and commitments made with your team.


Being a successful engineering leader requires balance and adaptability.

To summarize, here are the 7 tips:

  1. Set goals and vision for yourself and your team
  2. Build relationships
  3. Learn to delegate
  4. Keep it consist
  5. Say no when necessary
  6. Tune into the situation
  7. Take notes to stay organized

Being a successful engineering leader requires balance and adaptability. Focus on what is most important for yourself, the team, and the organization, and learn from experiences and feedback to improve your leadership skills. As you continue to grow, people around you will benefit from your dedication to becoming a better leader and team player.

Good luck on your leadership journey!

If you’re interested in more lessons on leadership, follow Exaltitude on LinkedIn for upcoming Career Conversation workshops.

Exaltitude newsletter is packed with advice for navigating your engineering career journey successfully. Sign up to stay tuned!

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