Do You Have The (Right) Skills?
If you were to ask the typical layperson what the most important quality of a successful engineer is, they would probably consider technical expertise to be the most vital. But the truth is that in RF engineering - as in all other branches of engineering - there are many other qualities that are necessary for success which are less quantifiable than technical skills. Electrical engineers who want to advance in their careers must also develop leadership skills in order to differentiate themselves from the competition and increase their value in the marketplace.
The BIG question: Is leadership something people are just born with? Or are there steps one can take cultivate leadership skills? In this article, we’d like to make a strong case for the latter.
Top 5 Leadership Skills of RF Engineers
It is important to understand that “leadership” is not simply one skill; it is the combination of multiple skills to inspire others to believe in a mission and to work toward a common goal. This begs the question: what are the most essential leadership skills in RF engineering, and how can they be developed?
1) Be a Detail-Oriented Visionary
Many people buy into the false dichotomy that people can either be big-picture thinkers or bean-counters, but not both. If you want to be a leader in RF engineering, you must be both! Attention to detail is necessary for any engineer, regardless of their role or the industry they work in. But in order to be a truly effective leader, you can’t view your job and the project you’re currently working on in isolation. Leaders without a vision are leaders in name only. People who don’t know where they want to go will have a difficult time motivating anyone to follow them there.
You have to have that big-picture, macro-level perspective with each project. You have to know how a change in one part of a system will affect the system as a whole. How the system you’re working on fits into a larger System of Systems, and how those changes will impact the end users and the marketplace.
In short, you need to be a “detail-oriented visionary”. Pay attention to the minutiae of what you’re currently working on, but make an effort to study how your current role and project fits into the larger goals of the organization and the industry you work in. Try to see not just what is, but what could be. How could it be made better?
2) Be Decisive
If you want to be a leader in RF engineering, you must be decisive. You must be able to analyze a situation, especially under pressure, and quickly make a firm decision. All leaders across any industry or field share this quality. It is rooted in one’s training and expertise, but also in confidence in one’s own judgment and experience. It is a quality that can be cultivated over time by stepping outside your comfort zone and taking on additional responsibilities where you will be forced to make decisions.
3) Be Adaptable
It doesn't matter how good of a planner you are. At some point, unexpected things are going to happen. Whether it is a defect that somehow escaped detection, a change in direction in the project or a lack of resources, the engineers who end up in leadership roles are the ones who demonstrate an ability to think on their feet and adapt to changing circumstances.
This is arguably the single most important skill for any engineer to develop beyond technical expertise - and it’s not taught in school. People who excel and eventually acquire leadership roles in the RF engineering industry do so because they understand the importance of good communication.
In a way, RF engineering is actually a good metaphor for the importance of communication. Imagine a radio that could only send information, but not receive it, or vice versa. Doesn’t sound like a very useful radio, does it? So is an engineer who can only convey information, but does not listen to others. Or how about an engineer who just follows orders and doesn’t speak up when something could be done better or differently. Express yourself! You'll have a greater chance of gaining higher respect.
Good engineers are good listeners. They listen carefully and give due consideration to the ideas and opinions of others. Throughout the process, they remain aware that even though they might be the lead engineer on a project, other team members’ and stakeholders’ opinions matter as well.
Engineers must also know how to communicate complex ideas and concepts in ways that people without any engineering background will be able to understand. As you advance in your career, you may have to do this more and more with important stakeholders like investors and company board members.
How does one improve communication skills? It all comes from practice. Ask other team members for their input. They may be looking at a challenge you’re facing from a different viewpoint. Sometimes a problem that seems unsolvable can be overcome simply by looking at it in a different way. Also consider learning how to communicate like a communications wizard in your future design reviews.
5) Understand the Difference Between Leadership and Management
While some people may use the terms interchangeably, leadership and management are actually two different things. Management is all about assigning tasks, allocating resources, and delivering results on schedule. You have to know how to manage time and delegate responsibilities appropriately. To be sure, these are important things in RF engineering, just as they are in any other industry, but it’s not the same as being a leader.
Leadership is ultimately about inspiring others to believe in the mission; that what they are doing is worthwhile, and to bring their best selves to the table to get the job done. Leaders inspire respect from the teams they oversee by getting to know their people, finding out what makes their people tick, and helping to cultivate the unique skills each person has.
Management and leadership are distinct, but they complement one another and help bring the vision of the company, project managers, and engineers to fruition.
Are these the sort of qualities that describe you? If so, you may have a future with the Bliley team! We’re always on the lookout for talented, ambitious engineers who don’t simply want to work in RF engineering but excel in the field and make an impact. If you’re ready to do the same, reach out to us today and let us know why you’re the right fit for the job.