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Technical Leadership Skills Development Through Interactive Workshops

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Professional Development for Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Dennis W. Hess Georgia Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dennis W. Hess is the Thomas C. DeLoach Jr., Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research interests include thin films, surfaces, interfaces, and plasma processing; these studies have resulted in more than 260 archival publications. In 2018, he published a book entitled, “Leadership by Engineers and Scientists (Wiley/AIChE). Professor Hess has a B.S. in Chemistry (Albright College), and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Physical Chemistry (Lehigh University). After four years at Fairchild Semiconductor, he served on the faculty in Chemical Engineering at the University of California Berkeley (1977-1991), where he spent 6 years as Assistant Dean in the College of Chemistry and 2 years as Vice Chair in ChE, at Lehigh University (1991-1996) where he was Department Chair, and at the Georgia Institute of Technology (1996-present). At Georgia Tech, he served as Director of the NSF MRSEC for Electronic Materials from 2008 to 2015. He was Editor-in-Chief of ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology from 2012 through 2018. He is past President of The Electrochemical Society (1996-97 term). He is a Fellow of the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the Electrochemical Society. He has received the AIChE Charles M. A. Stine Award, the ECS Solid State Science and Technology Award, the ECS Thomas D. Callinan Award, the ECS Edward Goodrich Acheson Award, and the ECS Henry B. Linford Distinguished Teaching Award.

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Technical Leadership Skills Development Through Interactive Workshops

Exceptional performance in engineering or science positions and careers requires detailed knowledge of the fundamentals in a specific field and related areas, and the ability to apply that knowledge to solve problems. However, these capabilities are necessary but not sufficient conditions for career success. In leadership or management positions technically-trained individuals must interact effectively with other individuals and groups within and outside of the organization to ensure that appropriate directions, goals and performance are achieved. That is, success in such positions requires that leaders solve or address sociotechnical problems, wherein a heightened level of complexity exists due to the intersection and interdependence of technical and people problems or issues. Early career leaders often find these situations to be frustrating and confusing, and may conclude that responses from others are illogical. The ability to deal with such considerations requires non-technical skillsets and a modified mindset relative to the strict technical approaches that the leader (initially) possesses.

Although management/business courses address some of the issues described, they are not taught from the standpoint of how a technical mindset approaches problems; this mindset typically results in frustration and discomfort for the new leader. Furthermore, business courses are generally focused on higher level leadership/management positions, e.g., Vice President or CEO. Students and early career engineers need insight and guidance when transitioning into technical leadership roles. Specifically, they need to gain awareness of the types of issues they will face and recognize that even if everyone thought logically about the problems encountered, solutions will still be difficult due to differences in values, priorities, biases, experiences, and personalities. Non-technical skills such as emotional intelligence, conflict management, and servant/shared leadership approaches are required to make reasonable decisions and establish/maintain a well-functioning and collegial team or organization.

Most graduate programs lack the resources to offer separate courses in technical leadership. However, 1-3 hour workshops offer a way to impart awareness of various challenges implicit in early career leadership roles and to discuss methods to address specific sociotechnical problems. In this talk, a workshop approach to discuss reasons why technical mindsets often lead to frustration for leaders and followers will be described and methods to re-orient the mindset offered. The approach uses 3-5 member teams to discuss mini case-studies typically encountered in early (and later) career positions that confound and frustrate leaders. The example scenarios invoked are ambiguous in that they have no “correct answer”, but rather better or poorer approaches. After each group reports their suggestions and conclusions to the other workshop attendees, consequences of the approaches offered are stressed and discussed with respect to likely reactions by team members and higher level administrators.

Hess, D. W. (2020, June), Technical Leadership Skills Development Through Interactive Workshops Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35288

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