Engineers Managing Engineers: A Practicable Principle of Uncertainty
- Halbert Halbert Jr. (The U. Of Oklahoma) | D.A. Woolf (The U. Of Oklahoma)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- March 1966
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 288 - 292
- 1966. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 4.1.2 Separation and Treating, 4.3.4 Scale, 6.1.5 Human Resources, Competence and Training, 7.5.3 Professional Registration/Cetification
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Few engineers in supervisory positions have received formal training in the techniques of managing. This paper calls to their attention some of the peculiarities of engineers and recommends a philosophy of supervision which is designed for engineers' temperaments. The engineering supervisor is asked to discard the presupposition that engineers are like any other group of employees; he is asked to reject the popular concept of directing by political authority; and his subordinates are asked to assume more responsible, aggressive roles within their spheres.
In recent years the position of the engineer in industry has undergone a transition. Because he brings a higher level of skill to his profession. greater performance is expected by his employer. As the engineering function has grown, many people with technical backgrounds have found their way into management positions. In consequence, engineers often are being supervised by engineers. Sound management is based on methods that have proved successful in practice. The current unusual rate of attrition from many oil companies, along with growing staff discontent, signals a warning that engineering management as traditionally practiced is not so sound. The supervising engineer has no universal set of rules prescribing a methodology for successful management practices-he operates by the principle of uncertainty. Although he may define the scope of the efforts of his subordinates, he is unable to quantify their motivations or productivity in tangible terms. His ability to elicit better performance from the staff depends on his ability to recognize and to react properly and promptly to a variety of human needs and characteristics.
Characteristics and Demands Of Engineers
According to the management literature. today's engineering supervisor has the challenge of directing an unusual type of employee. Engineers are described as being different from other employees. Barlow, Deutsch and Hinrichs have categorized engineers as types whose eccentricities are acquired in the process of attaining a disciplined, professional education. Some of the more common accusations are: engineers "are too factual", "are too introverted", "are not human relations oriented", "have a peculiar type of mind", "cannot adequately express themselves", "have limited perspective", "are perfectionists" and "are intolerant of non-engineering problems". One is led to believe that industry has acquired a group of prima donnas who could quite conceivably be more of a problem than an asset. Attitude surveys reveal that engineers generally are dissatisfied and frustrated with their work environment. They are antagonistic toward management and its concept of executive authority. French and Gatlin list these factors as causes for engineers' dissatisfaction: (1) engineers consider themselves underpaid; (2) they feel that their talents are misused and that they are forced into overspecialization; and (3) they contend that many technical tasks are beneath their capability. Their education and value- orientation characteristics lead engineers to ask for the following in their job and work environment: better salaries, worthwhile and stimulating work. adequate facilities with technician help. association with high-caliber colleagues, a technically trained management, freedom in choosing problems. an organization with a reputation for scientific advancement, opportunity for advancement, job security, a location where formal education can be continued, treatment as individuals. freedom to publish and suitable living conditions. Barnes maintains that if a company attempted to provide in full measure each of these demands it could very well find itself in poor financial health. Of all the engineers' demands, recognition appears to be the most sought after reward. Unlike his fellow professionals-physicians, teachers and lawyers-the engineer is engaged in work that is submerged and anonymous. He rarely comes in contact with the public; his professional life is limited to association with fellow engineers. According to Cronstedt: "The recognition he receives and the social stature he acquires must come from sources other than public acclaim". As a consequence of this anonymity, Barlow claims that engineers become subject to many of the ills of group psychology: "The herd instinct shows itself as engineers try to draw strength and support from each other".
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