Leadership in Engineering

Female demonstrating leadership skills for engineers

What comes to mind when you think of a leader? Is it a high-powered CEO in a suit? Is it someone holding lots of meetings and sharing feedback? Depending on your industry, leadership can take many forms, but the core meaning of leader remains the same — someone who ensures their team has the necessary tools and support to reach their goals. In engineering, it is especially important for leaders to be skilled technically as well as have the business skills to lead their company to success.

"Engineers typically see problems from all aspects — we are trained problem solvers, [and] in a leadership position, [we] typically have the ability to make a decision based on data." — Michael De Gregorio, Assistant Dean of Engineering

In This Article:

The Overlap Between Engineering and Business

Having knowledge of technical skills and techniques makes someone a highly skilled engineer and some may believe that technical skills are all they need to be successful in their career as an engineer. However, that is not the case as most industry work is done in collaboration and requires a partnership with others to complete a project. All projects, regardless of the size, are focused on meeting customer needs and improving upon previous methods. In order to do this, the team must consist of those who understand the required technical skills as well as excellent leadership in engineering, such as project management skills, to create the final product for the customer.

"Especially when going into management, communication and project management skills make better engineers." — Samantha Russell, Director of Interdisciplinary Engineering Capstones

Why Is Leadership Important in Engineering

Knowledge of how to properly plan a project and adjust for risks are invaluable in any field and are the underlying principles of project management. As an engineer you can create brilliant innovations to projects you are working on to make people’s lives better, but if you don’t know how to market your idea, there is a low chance that the idea will grow to anything bigger. It is not enough to simply create a new project or innovate an idea; engineers must know how to move forward in engineering and marketing ideas, gathering investors and continuously improving on your idea as you receive customer feedback.

Collaboration Framework — Combines Programming With Engineering and Business Aspects

If you find yourself asking, Why is leadership important in engineering? the answer is simple. Leadership is a key component of every project you will accomplish. While not everyone will become a manager, most engineers who are on a team will, at some point, take the initiative on making sure a project is completed, which is important to the team’s success. Each person has a unique set of skills that they can contribute to reach the desired goal of the project. No one person has all the answers and providing feedback and collaborating with others usually leads to the creation of the best possible product, tool or plan.

Every student in a Grand Canyon University (GCU) engineering program participates in a capstone project during their senior year. Capstone preparations begin at the end of junior year as you take a project management class that integrates project planning and layout with the development of a proposal in groups or in conjunction with an industry partner. Your group is then assigned a proposal and a faculty mentor to guide you throughout your senior year capstone. 

Throughout the year you follow all the steps of project execution and develop leadership in engineering skills as you prepare weekly reports and meetings with your faculty mentor, prepare a budget, prototypes and testing, as well as prepare progress update presentations to all the faculty for constructive feedback. All the engineering and business components of the capstone are meant to mimic industry collaboration. The feedback received from the capstone project partners always speaks highly of the thoroughness of GCU students and their work.

Capstone teams are selected to create a balance among each person’s skills to successfully complete the project, as well as encourage you to work in a diverse team. As higher-level courses tend to become more specialized and limit interactions, capstone groups bring back some of the community that was found in the combined core classes of the engineering programs. Within the team, group members self-appoint roles to manage their finances, planning and other specialties, ensuring that they deliver their final product as requested.

Partnering With Engineering and Marketing Industries

Most ideas are born from a need. You see something that needs fixing and work to make something that either answers that need or improves upon the current answer to that need. Beyond the idea, the next most important thing is making sure that your solution benefits the customer you are creating it for. Partnerships between the engineer creating the solution and the customer is the key to ensuring that the need you are trying to solve is met according to all the necessary specifications.

When completing a project, the main goal is to reach the deliverables that were outlined to meet the needs of the stakeholders. This is especially true for industry and projects that are meant to solve problems for great populations. During their Engineering Capstone, groups are encouraged to meet with their customers frequently to best understand the parameters of the desired product.

For projects that partner directly with industry, students are creating something that will directly serve their client and represent the work of GCU students. GCU engineering partners with many local industries such as Rockford Fosgate, Benchmark, ACCEL and Industrial Fiber Optics on capstone projects that give students experience in working with industry while developing their project.

Finding Engineering and Business Leadership Career Opportunities

Now that you know about the benefits of including business knowledge into your engineering projects, your next question may be, how do I gain these skills? Often, there are already opportunities all around you. Participating in an engineering club is a great way to start developing leadership skills, especially if there is a competition the club participates in. Competitions provide a framework for developing a club project and can make connections between you and your peers, as well as industry or university partners that sponsor or attend those competitions.

Opportunities to engage in entrepreneurship exists throughout GCU. One example is the Idea Club, where students from all colleges can share business or product ideas and receive mentorship to develop that idea into a business. Many times, students have ideas but aren’t sure how to execute them. By collaborating with students in other colleges, engineers can make connections that further their idea from conception to an actual product. “It’s teaching the engineering students the basics of innovation – how to develop something new,” says Colangelo College of Business entrepreneurship professor Michael Lang, the faculty bridge between the business and engineering colleges.1

At GCU, students are encouraged to interact and network with industry professionals through career fairs, industry panels, internships and more. Additionally, collaboration is key between the Colangelo College of Business and the College of Science, Engineering and Technology students. The colleges encourage business students and engineering students to pair up, use the engineering labs and build your prototypes together.

For example, a GCU mechanical engineering sophomore student is currently creating his own business to meet a need he saw on campus. During his Engineering Innovation and Lab class (ESG 210), which teaches the basics of product development and marketing, this student was encouraged to share his idea with the Idea Club and participate in the GCU Canyon Challenge to raise funds and further develop his idea. While this student still has work to be done to develop his business idea, the support from mentors in the engineering and business college has helped catapult his project from an idea to a burgeoning business.

Most recently, students were able to interact with Boeing through tours of their Mesa location and an industry panel with Boeing representatives sharing their experiences and career path. Through interactions such as these, students spoke with engineers at all management levels, introducing leadership opportunities that can come with experience in the job. Additionally, during the industry panel, Boeing representatives shared that they were a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt because of the opportunities available at their company.

"From the very beginning, we wanted a marriage between business and engineering. We don't want to have a world where entrepreneurs are out there selling things that can't be built or engineers are building things that nobody wants."1 — Tim Kelley, Colangelo College of Business Chair of Entrepreneurship

Developing an Entrepreneurial Mindset: Combining Engineering and Marketing Degrees

Becoming a well-rounded leader in engineering involves a combination of skills from the fields of business and engineering. Preparation for quality leadership in engineering begins in the classroom and GCU has the engineering and business curriculum to prepare you, to foster your ideas and to mentor you as you continue on your path to success. Unlock your leadership potential and take your career to the next level with the Bachelor of Science in Engineering with an Emphasis in Project Management degree from GCU. Enroll now and discover the leadership skills you need to market your next creation! 


1 Sweeten-Shults, L. (2022, Dec. 21). Engineering a strong entrepreneurial spirit. GCU News. Retrieved April 19, 2023.


Approved by the assistant dean for the College of Science, Engineering and Technology on April 26, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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