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Leading and Managing Systems and Specialty Engineers in Sweet Huntsville, Alabama

10 Feb 2018 12:00 PM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)

By: Alice Squires, Washington State University, email: alice.squires@wsu.edu, Alberto Sols, University College of South-East Norway, Erika Palmer, University of Bergen

Early Saturday morning on October 21st, the Empowering Women as Leaders in Systems Engineering (EWLSE) sponsored technical workshop Leading and Managing System and Specialty Engineers was delivered at the American Society of Engineering Management (ASEM) annual conference in sweet Huntsville, Alabama. The workshop, developed by Alberto Sols, Alice Squires, and Erika Palmer, addressed three major topics for technical managers of systems and specialty engineers: Part I) Technical Competency, Part II) Diversity and Team Building, and Part III) Processes and Policy.

Part I results included the identification of two common roles between systems and specialty engineers: systems thinker and effective communicator. Traits associated with the systems engineer role included leadership, adaptive learner, technical breadth, knowledge management, systematic, mindfulness, and patience. Traits associated with the specialty engineer included technical knowledge, analytical skills, teamwork, accuracy, and self confidence. Results for improving traits focused on intention and commitment as well as recognition of ignorance and the desire to improve.

Part II results included the recognition that diversity, discrimination, and expectations differ between countries, and that while age and gender are visible, mindset and values are invisible, and culture is in some ways visible and in other ways invisible. One participant raised the point “Do you want to sacrifice efficiency for effectiveness, when you communalize a model you eliminate diversity.” Pros and cons related to building diverse teams were discussed with pros including new and diversified ideas, varying experience, balance, and innovation and with cons focused on challenges with communication and what type of communication is best depending on individual preference and styles (direct versus subtle). The discussion about leveraging diversity in teams focused on the importance of openness and adaptability, matching people to what they are naturally good at while also giving them a stretch goal and providing higher opportunities for self-development, being knowledgeable of and avoiding micro-aggressions, and getting the best out of everyone, but also raised the question as to whether or not we were coming from a perspective of privilege focused on how we can leverage diversity to provide value to ‘us’. The team decided that positive goodwill, intention, authenticity, empathy, and respect from the heart were what was important and everything else (such as miswordings or potential biased actions) can be overlooked when these positive factors are clearly present. Some things we can do are ask people about needs and expectations, listen to the answers, show we care, be respectful, and, as always, lead by example.

For Part III the group reviewed a case study and developed a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) matrix with recommended actions for the systems and specialty manager for the case presented. These actions, applicable to most organizations, focused on generating awareness and building demand for systems engineering in the organization, filling the gaps and areas of expertise that are missing in both the system and specialties area, and focusing on the link between training, tools, and processes.

Interested in learning more? The outcomes of the ASEM 2017 workshop are included in the attached set of workshop slides. Enjoy!


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