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Engineering and Natural Science Manager Careers and Job Information

Career and Job Highlights for Engineering and Natural Science Managers

  • Most engineering and natural sciences managers have backgrounds in science, engineering, or mathematics.
  • Projected employment growth for engineering and natural sciences managers is generally tied to the employment rates of the engineers and scientists they supervise and the sectors in which they work.
  • Workers with advanced technical knowledge and strong communication and business management skills will have the best opportunities.

Engineering and Natural Science Manager Career Overview and Job Description

Engineering and natural sciences managers direct various activities by applying their advanced technical knowledge of science and engineering. They are responsible for planning, coordinating, and directing research, design, and production activities. They may also supervise engineers, technicians, scientists, and various support personnel. Some primary goals of an engineering and natural sciences manager might include product development, advancement of the firm’s scientific research, or improvement of the firm’s manufacturing processes. To achieve these goals, managers must create detailed plans, which might explain how to develop the concepts of a new product or service, or which could deal with technical problems delaying a project’s completion.
To be successful, these managers must be familiar with administrative procedures, such as hiring, supervision, and resource distribution. They identify staff, training, and equipment needs; they hire scientists, engineers, and support personnel, assigning them to specific responsibilities for a project; and they supervise the work of these employees, evaluating their contributions and establishing administrative policies and procedures, such as environmental standards. Financial acumen is also important for managers, since they propose and oversee the budgets of projects and programs.

These managers constantly interact with people. They regularly coordinate their department’s activities with those of other units, both within and outside their firm. In addition to working directly with higher levels of management, they also confer with other managers (in finance, production, and marketing, for example), as well as with various contractors and suppliers.

Engineering managers work in several capacities. Some oversee the design and development of machinery, products, and processes. Others work in industrial plants, managing production procedures, quality assurance, or maintenance for the facility. Many managers are employed as plant engineers; these direct and coordinate the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of industrial plant’s equipment. Still others direct research and development groups that improve existing products and processes or produce new ones.

Natural sciences managers supervise life and physical scientists (agricultural scientists, biologists, chemists, geologists, medical scientists, physicists, etc.). These scientists and their managers may conduct basic research projects or work on commercial projects. Managers may head research and development projects or coordinate testing, quality control, and production activities. On top of administrative responsibilities, some natural science managers do their own research.

Engineering and Natural Science Manager Training and Job Qualifications

Engineering and natural sciences managers must have a sound technical understanding of their field, because they must be able to comprehend and direct their subordinates’ projects and explain these projects in lay terms to potential customers and upper management. Because of these technical aspects, most engineering and natural sciences managers have both trained and worked as engineers, scientists, or mathematicians.

Most engineering managers earn some type of appropriate bachelor’s degree and then start their careers as engineers. In most organizations, advancement to higher-level positions requires that engineers take on management responsibilities. Firms promote engineers to positions in management based on their technical knowledge in their specialty but also on their administrative and communication skills. Engineers commonly acquire these skills through advanced degrees, either a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) or a master’s degree in engineering management. Firms frequently cover the costs of these degrees, and some large firms offer several courses for these degrees on site. For those wanting to manage in technical fields, a master’s degree in engineering management is probably the best route. Those wanting to manage in non-technical fields should pursue an MBA.

Most science managers start their careers as scientists, working in fields like biology, chemistry, geology, and mathematics. Advanced training is important. Some scientists and mathematicians in applied research and related activities only have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but most researchers have a Ph.D. To move into management, scientists must be specialists in the work they supervise and should have strong communication and administrative skills. Because scientific advancements come so rapidly, science managers must continually upgrade their expertise. Scientists can enhance their undergraduate instruction through graduate programs, which allow them to receive training in other areas, such as management and computer technology.

Although some engineering and natural sciences managers advance to positions of upper management within their field, advancement is not limited to strictly technical areas. Some become managers in sales, marketing, human resources, and other non-technical fields. Given the nature of the industry, non-technical managers in high-technology firms still need specialized technical knowledge. For example, sales workers in an engineering firm might all be seasoned engineers, as only those with specialized engineering knowledge could market the firms’ complex services. In time, such salespeople could become sales managers.

Job and Employment Opportunities for Engineering and Natural Science Managers

According to projections, employment of engineering and natural sciences managers should grow at about the same rate as the average through the year 2012. This trend corresponds with the projected employment rates for engineering and most sciences. Beyond this regular growth, the need to replace managers who retire or change positions or fields will create many other openings. Employees with advanced technical training and excellent communication skills will have the greatest chances of advancing to a management position. Management candidates also need strong business management skills because engineering and natural sciences managers participate in their firm’s financial, production, and marketing activities.

Projected employment growth for engineering and natural sciences managers should directly follow the growth of the occupations they supervise and the industries in which they are found. For example, rapidly growing fields—such as electrical, computer, and biomedical engineering—should present more management opportunities than more slowly growing fields—such as aerospace and petroleum engineering. Moreover, many firms now contract out their engineering and science management services, and this trend should translate into employment opportunities for managers in scientific and technical consulting companies.

Historical Earnings Information

Annual earnings for engineering and natural sciences managers vary by specialty and level of responsibility. For engineering managers, median earnings in the year 2002 were $90,930. The range of earnings for the middle 50 percent was from $72,480 to $114,050. The earnings of the lowest 10 percent were under $57,840, while the earnings of the highest 10 percent exceeded $141,380. In 2002, engineering managers in the industries employing the most of these managers reported the following median annual earnings:

  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing – $101,290
  • Management of companies and enterprises – $98,000
  • Aerospace product and parts manufacturing – $97,420
  • Federal Government – $90,030
  • Architectural, engineering, and related services – $89,520

Natural sciences managers in 2002 reported median annual earnings of $82,250. Salaries for the middle 50 percent were between $60,000 and $111,070. The earnings of the lowest 10 percent were under $45,640, while the earnings of the highest 10 percent exceeded $144,590. In 2002, natural sciences managers in the industries employing the most of these managers reported the following median annual earnings:

  • Scientific research and development services – $101,690
  • Federal Government – $77,020

A 2003 survey of manufacturing firms, performed by Abbot, Langer & Associates, showed that the median annual earnings of engineering department managers and superintendents were slightly higher ($89,271) than those of research and development managers ($86,412).

Engineering and natural sciences managers, particularly those in upper management, also tend to receive more perquisites (bonuses, expense accounts, stock option plans, etc.) than do non-managerial workers in the same organization.