The case to be studied involves an experience I had working with a group of Chemical Engineering students in an Overseas Community Involvement Project where we had to construct and install water purification systems for a village. To make the project more organized, deadlines for specific targets of the project were also set at different intervals. During one of the days of the project however, our group had faced inclement weather in the morning, resulting in work being started only in the afternoon. Naturally we were unsure of whether we could complete our tasks, which included layering and cementing of walls, as well as the installation of pipes and the filters for the system. To make matters worse, we had to complete them by the end of the day, as we were expected to assist local engineers with other installation works the next day on the same water purification system and they could not carry on unless we completed our tasks. In our panic, we tried rushing our tasks without properly distributing our roles, severely affecting the quality of our construction and installation works despite completing them. Looking back, we could have found ways to work more effectively.
This case study intends to identify which orientation of leadership from Rottmann et al’s Engineering Leadership would have been best suited in that situation, as well as to question how a better understanding of engineering leadership and its traits would have aided us as budding engineers-to-be.
It would seem rather apparent that collaborative optimization would have been most appropriate in that situation. As highlighted by Rottmann et al, having an understanding of collaborative optimization could have aided us in developing a highly-efficient process of working, where all our skills and strengths could be fully utilized and leveraged on. In this case, the issue was a lack of direction that resulted in a misallocation of tasks that was inefficient as the entire operation required all aspects of it to be completed in tandem with one another. This could have been avoided, had we done something that we were more familiar with. For example, I was more familiar with the layering and cementing of the walls, yet, I found myself working on the basin installation instead. However, in such a situation, a leader who embodies the concept of collaborative optimization only would not have sufficed.
As mentioned by Colcleugh, a catalyst-like leader would not only optimize task allocation, but may also serve as a source of motivation, potentially increasing the morale of members. If someone amongst us had stepped up to lead and exemplify these traits, the team could have possibly experienced a motivational boost towards our goal of completing the construction while also being able to fully optimize our efforts by doing familiar tasks such as the layering of walls that I was more proficient in. This demonstrates clearly the effectiveness of a catalytic style of engineering leadership through collaborative optimization as it is able to motivate its members to perform even more effectively. In fact, collaborative optimization may be the most crucial indicator of proficient engineering leadership, being the orientation most closely linked to the ideal engineering leader. As such, it would seem that the absence of collaborative optimization by all of us resulted in an inefficient display of engineering leadership which if done better, could have made the whole process more efficient.
By having a better understanding of the concepts of engineering leadership, it can also be identified that there was an absence of effective communication. According to Schell, it is a key trait of engineering leadership that should be expected of engineering leaders in the industry. In fact, another author, Brent, identifies effective communication as being one of the most highly sought-after traits by industries themselves. Effective communication as an engineering leader is crucial to the success of any project due to its influence. In this context, effective communication could have been developed from our interactions, such that we familiarized with one another’s technical strengths. In doing so, we could have identified the different areas of construction that members were more proficient in. This trait supports the leadership orientation of collaborative optimization, by aiding the leader in his task delegation as its members would have already known how to leverage on each other’s strengths. If the ideas and information had been relayed much more effectively, our construction and installation could have been carried out in a more efficient manner.
Such cases are imperative in the development of engineering leaders, as they allow a first-hand experience of how the engineering leadership can be applied in a given situation. By reflecting on my own engineering related leadership experience, I am able to comprehend the theories better, and understand that leaders are made and not born. Much of my discussion emphasized the importance of collaborative optimization and how practicing effective communication and a catalytic style of leadership are key traits of it. Recognizing that everyone has their own strengths, would be only the first step towards identifying myself as an engineering leader.