June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2018
Engineering Leadership Development Division
Most studies on engineering leadership have focused so far on developing an empirically based theory , understanding how leadership orientations vary across demographic variables , and identifying the kinds of leadership development that occur during undergraduate engineering education . In recent years, other studies have helped uncover how engineering companies advertise leadership in job postings for entry level engineers , what recruiters look for at career fairs , and the leadership behaviours most valued by companies . There is a a limited understanding of how these expectations translate into reality when early career engineers join a company and begin their socialization in the workplace. We do not understand how early career engineers develop their leadership identities and conception, and the extent to which they exhibit the leadership behaviours sought after by the companies that employ them. This paper addresses this gap by examining what kinds of leadership development occur in the early years of an engineer’s career by examining the transition process of engineers as they navigate their first few years of professional work.
Relevance to engineering leadership Our study explores how early career engineers conceptualize leadership, the leadership behaviors they exhibit, and the opportunities for leadership development and practice in different organizational contexts.
Methodology This paper draws on a larger qualitative multiple case study research project that examines the university-to-work transition of engineering graduates. As part of the study, we interviewed 21 early career engineers in four engineering companies to explore how they understand and practice leadership at the early stage of their engineering career. We also compared and contrasted opportunities for the development and practice of leadership within and across the four engineering companies.
Results The study revealed that the majority of early career engineers conceptualize leadership in terms of position, while a few had more nuanced definitions relating to process, relationships and informal types of leadership. In terms of behaviours, our study corroborates the relevance of Hartmann and Jahren’s leadership themes, with the three most frequent being communication, interpersonal interaction and initiative. Finally, the most common opportunities for leadership at this career stage were to lead a project, to mentor co-op students and interns, or to play a role in a committee or extracurricular organization associated with the company.
Recommendations and implications Our study suggests that leadership development does occur at this early career stage and that both engineers and their organizations have important and distinct roles to play in this process. Engineers can enact their agency by taking initiative, asking questions and pushing to learn about the broader context in which their work fits. Organizations can create an expansive organizational culture by creating challenging assignments, providing adequate feedback and encouraging engineers to learn from their colleagues. The study also corroborates previous findings about the resistance to leadership among engineers , and show links between the positional conception of leadership and the orientation towards technical mastery identified in earlier studies.
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Klassen, M., & Kovalchuk, S., & Reeve, D., & Sacks, R. (2017, June), Leading from the Bottom Up: Leadership Conceptions and Practices Among Early Career Engineers Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/28608
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