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12 traits of a great Engineering Manager

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 month ago

Every software team wants to boost productivity and add value–but that’s easier said than done. Empowering a team of software engineers to do their best work starts with a good engineering manager, with all the skills needed to maximise production pipelines and throughput without burning people out.


This means a great engineering manager is worth their weight in gold. But what makes a great engineering manager? In our opinion, it comes down to 12 key traits. How many of these do you have–and which do you need to develop?


1. Respect for Autonomy
We all know developers hate to be interrupted when they’re coding–which means they tend to hate meetings. Embrace autonomy and cut meetings down to the bare minimum, letting devs manage their own work and communicate on channels like Slack instead. You’ll gain a reputation as someone who doesn’t waste time and would rather get it done–and when you must have a meeting, people will take it seriously.


2. Agility

As software development becomes more and more agile and integrated, teams are breaking down silos and looking to increase speed, communication and transparency. A good engineering manager is aware of new best practices, such as shifting left. You’ll be setting the pace and culture for the whole team, so staying agile in thinking and execution is critical.


3. Exceptional Communication Skills

Engineering managers typically liaise between many stakeholders, including board members, executives, developers, clients, and end-users. This gets very challenging when projects inevitably run over time and over budget.

The best engineering managers combine excellent communication skills with deep visibility into DevOps flow metrics, so they can give realistic project estimates and real-time updates, keep tensions low and stakeholders happy, and retain talented devs. 


4. Patience 

Software development is inherently frustrating, especially when errors slip into production and require long, expensive reworks. As a manager, you’ll need to be patient, anticipate challenges, and be positive about working through them to completion–even when that means working nights and weekends. Only a genuine love for software development will carry you through.


5. Inclusiveness

Diverse and inclusive teams consistently outperform siloed teams that lack communication. Communicate with everyone on your team and make sure each person has a voice and feels heard. 


6. Advanced Prioritisation Skills

Pulling devs away from one task to focus on something else can delay workflows and make projects run over deadline. Be especially careful about prioritising projects when your team is short-staffed and overworked. 

You’ll need a macro view of the development process and clear visibility into what devs are working on, as well as the ability to triage projects and prioritise tasks intelligently throughout the day. 


7. A Zero-Trust Approach

The zero-trust framework is based on the idea that no human or nonhuman identity should have unrestricted access to any system or database. Restricting access can prevent costly cybersecurity incidents, but it’s not always popular with end users. As a manager, you’ll need to get buy-in by explaining the benefits of zero trust. 


8. Motivation

If your people lose motivation, you’ll lose your people, so keep an eye on employee morale and find ways to keep them feeling challenged, motivated, and excited to come to work. Good managers keep work enjoyable by offering incentives and rewards for completed projects, setting challenges and giving out fun perks.


9. Advanced Coding Knowledge

As a manager, you may not have time to do any coding yourself, but you’ll still need to stay up to date with advanced knowledge of what your devs are using in order to assess and analyse their work, troubleshoot issues, and make good hiring decisions.


10. Managerial Skills

Great devs don’t always make good managers. You’re not dealing with lines of code any more, but with people, so consider getting managerial training to ensure you’re up to the challenge.


11. An Ability to Quantify and Measure 

Shifting priorities, team constraints and technical challenges can make projects very complex, but a good manager has to be able to measure and analyse projects to spot risks and keep everything on track. Luckily, recent innovations in engineering project management have made it much easier to track progress.


12. Strong Hiring Skills

Autonomy will only work if your team has the skills and drive to make it work. Bad hires slow down work, drive up costs, and make errors that can wind up in production. Prioritise hiring the right people, conducting both technical and personal interviews as well as timed testing projects. 


Even better, invest in working with a specialist recruitment partner, and the service will quickly pay for itself. Get in touch today to discover how we can help you make the best possible hires.