What Makes a Good Engineering Manager: The Top Traits and Skills

If you’re a senior developer, it’s likely that you’ve thought about becoming a manager. It can be a very rewarding career path. But what makes a good engineering manager? What skills and traits do you need to succeed? And how can you be sure that you’re cut out for the job?

Most of us think that an engineering manager role involves project management, one on ones, and code reviews. However, there’s a lot more that goes into building (and maintaining) a great team.

Let’s explore what the best leaders have in common and how you can develop those skills.

What makes a good engineering manager?

We all know what it’s like to work with a bad manager. They’re the ones who micromanage, are always in your business, and never seem to be satisfied.

On the other hand, a great manager is someone who gives you the space you need to do your job and offers helpful guidance when needed. They genuinely care about your career and want you to grow.

A well-qualified tech lead should be able to:

Lead with a vision

A great engineering manager is a leader, coach, and mentor for their engineering team. They understand the company’s vision and can articulate it well. EMs guide their team members towards their goals, set the course, and make sure everyone is rowing in the same direction. They also provide their software engineers with all the resources they need to be successful.

Put people first

When you’re in a leadership role, your team is your most important asset. Knowing this can make a big difference in your team’s culture.

Engineering managers establish trust and invest in the development of their direct reports by challenging them to grow and giving them opportunities. Team culture is everything, and a good EM will foster an environment where people feel comfortable taking risks, making mistakes, and being themselves.

Make decisions quickly

The software world is always changing. That means engineering managers have to move fast.

Time management is key; prioritizing tasks and figuring out what’s the most important thing to focus on helps the whole team succeed. Effective managers are also able to balance short-term and long-term goals and make tough calls when necessary.

See the bigger picture

A good manager has a big-picture view of the company and the industry. They understand what’s happening in the market and how their team can capitalize on new opportunities.

Great managers delegate tasks and see beyond the day-to-day. They use interview tools to hire 10x developers who can write code, have technical discussions, and improve processes. They’re also involved in developing new products.

Tip: Woven’s tech interview platform helps new engineering leaders build their teams while saving engineering time. Start a free trial today.

What are the qualities of an effective engineering manager?

It’s one thing to have the management skills required for an engineering manager role. It’s another to have the characteristics that set things on a good path.

A senior engineer who wants to go from an individual contributor to a tech lead should have:

  • Empathy. It’s important to have empathy for others and to respond in constructive ways. Whether you’re dealing with conflicts between team members or trying to find the root cause of a problem, it’s essential to be able to see things from other people’s perspectives.
  • Communication skills. Engineering managers need to communicate effectively with different teams, upper management, and other stakeholders. This includes listening as well as sharing thoughts and ideas. Team communication, one on one meetings, and weekly development sharing are important aspects of an engineering manager’s job.
  • Problem-solving skills. Software engineering is all about solving problems, and as a manager, you’re going to be faced with complex projects on a daily basis. Your team’s success relies heavily on you being able to identify the problem, gather data, and come up with solutions.
  • Emotional intelligence.  “Emotions” and “software engineer” don’t always go together, but a good manager should be able to understand and control their emotions. This includes staying calm in stressful situations and dealing with difficult conversations.
  • Growth mindset.  A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed. This is important because it allows engineering teams to continue learning and adapting as the industry changes. Great engineering managers propel their team’s growth by providing opportunities for learning and giving feedback that focuses on improvement.

How do you transition to a manager position?

In most industries, moving from an independent contributor into a management role is a big change. It’s important to think about why you want to make the move and what kind of manager you want to be.

A few things you can do to make the transition smoother:

  • Learn about engineering management. If you’re not sure what being a manager entails, there’s no shame in doing some research. Talk to senior management about their career journey or ask a team member to share their experience with their manager.
  • Align expectations. Once you’ve decided to go for it, it’s important to have a discussion with your current manager about what they expect from you in your new position. Be sure to set goals and outline your responsibilities.
  • Start developing relationships. If you want to be a successful manager, you need to be a team player. Start building relationships with other team members. This includes getting to know them on a personal level and understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Be patient. Making the transition to a management position can be challenging, so it’s important to be patient with yourself. Rome wasn’t built in a day — and neither is a successful engineering team.

Tip: Check out our blog post for 3 books for every new engineering manager should read.

How can I become a good engineering manager?

Managing engineers is a complex and challenging task. But if you’re up for the challenge, you can expect to reap the rewards.

EMs get to see their team’s hard work come to fruition. They have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line, and they’re able to mentor and develop the next generation of engineers.

The most important thing is to never stop learning. The world of technology changes rapidly, and great software engineering managers have to change with it.

Best of luck. You got this!