To excel, change perspective

Develop your engineering career by expanding your worldly view and volunteering with various groups.


John F. Hennessy III, PE, Turnstone Energy Solutions, New York CityThrough involvement in engineering and other associations, young engineers can become more aware of the world around them and how to interact with it. Along the way they need to:

  • Understand that leadership is an art
  • Know themselves and define their personal leadership framework
  • Lead a company that adapts to the world around it
  • Examine the changing environment, global issues, and trends
  • Interpret and apply public policy and its importance to engineering.

So how should one go about developing these skills? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Read books, periodicals, and papers on subjects beyond technical writings.

Being exposed to ideas beyond your technical field will help you understand how your work fits into a larger framework of the world.

A transportation engineer would be a much better practitioner if he or she had a more complete understanding of the financing and public policy issues surrounding road and infrastructure development.

If one were to read “The Power Broker,” by Robert A. Caro, a person would read a fascinating account of how one person shaped and changed the infrastructure of a great city and state almost singlehandedly and would understand how public policy is shaped.

2. Attend seminars on subjects beyond technical ones.

Many universities and institutions hold seminars on a wide variety of topics concerning public policy. Again, being exposed to ideas beyond your technical field will help you understand how your work fits into a larger framework of the world.  

An engineer attending a seminar on the future of energy supply would have a better understanding of how and why clean energy conserving technologies have a positive impact on not only the project he or she is working on, but the whole world environment.

3. Participate in outside organizations.

A young engineer should seek out opportunities to participate in the leadership of both technical and nontechnical groups. These groups offer a range of experiences that will broaden and deepen the understanding of the environment that we live and work in as well as allow one to develop their leadership skills.

By volunteering at a technical or nontechnical group, an engineer will get a better understanding of how decisions are made by a group, get a broader picture of why decisions are made, and learn how committee members influence others.

As time passes, the individual will become more skilled at understanding the group dynamic and could be offered committee chair responsibility or advancement to other committees. As these skills are developed the individual will see his or her responsibilities and influence over others increase.

Of course, this list is only a sample of how and where young engineers can go to broaden their experiences and learn new leadership outside of their firm. Young engineers will develop skill sets more quickly and be better able to undertake new responsibilities when they are given them.

Hennessy is CEO of Turnstone Energy Solutions and the former chairman of the board and CEO of the Syska Hennessy Group. He is chairman emeritus of the board of directors of the New York Building Congress, chairman emeritus of the New York Building Foundation, past president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York, and 2008-2009 chair of the American Council of Engineering Companies (nationwide).

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