The Importance of Soft Skills in Engineering Leadership Hiring: Beyond Technical Abilities

To be an effective team member, engineers need more than technical skills and knowledge. Engineers need soft skills, too. Engineers with the right balance of soft skills, technical ability, and knowledge have much more interpersonal success within large, interconnected teams.

So, how do you identify the soft skills most applicable to your engineering positions? And how do you assess these soft skills during the interview stages—before presenting an offer of employment?

Identifying Key Soft Skills for Different Roles

Soft skills are those skills outside the technical knowledge requirements of a position. Soft skills help engineers better relate to others across departments, including other employees, management, and clients or customers. Engineers must often network with experts in other disciplines, which requires solid communication skills and the ability to cooperate amicably.

Identify the soft skills you feel are most important in your organization, and then assess candidates during the initial interviewing stages. Potential hires that bring the right combination of engineering expertise and soft skills can help your teams efficiently complete tasks while also improving partnerships and other stakeholder relationships.

Some of the most important soft skills to look for when hiring for engineering leadership positions include:

Planning and Time Management

Engineering projects are a place where order and tidiness rule the day. Projects often have strict time constraints and minimal resources. You can assess a candidate’s organizational soft skills quite simply: did they show up to the interview at the scheduled time? If so, this action displays an organized individual with the ability to:

  • Set a goal: Attend the interview and show up on time.
  • Plan the goal’s execution: Write down the date and time and begin making the appropriate adjustments to their schedule.
  • Prioritize the goal’s achievement: On the day of the interview, organize their personal tasks and responsibilities to ensure nothing interferes with the goal’s achievement.
  • Achieve the goal: Arrive to their scheduled interview on time.

Communication and Listening

Engineers are often called upon to relay complex information to other internal teams, clients, and stakeholders. When communicating complex ideas to non-technical teams, it’s important to be able to effectively strip all jargon and complexities from an explanation so that information can be understood by anyone. 

Overall, honed communication and listening soft skills comprise a host of verbal and non-verbal cues and can also reveal a candidate’s level of patience.


Engineers are often part of a much larger team, especially when working on large or complex projects. Candidates who are as committed to ensuring a successful project and meeting an organization’s overall business goals as they are their own personal and professional goals tend to willingly accept responsibility and help out wherever and whenever they’re needed.

One way to assess a candidate’s valuation of teamwork is to directly ask about a previous position and how they approached conflict or manage disagreements? Observe how the candidate communicates these memories. 

Adaptability and Problem-solving

The ability to come up with solutions on the fly, pivot as new tech is introduced, and meet challenges head-on all help keep projects streamlined, on time, and on (or under) budget.

Customer Service, Creativity, and Leadership

Your clients or customers are the reason you exist, so your engineering leadership must be comfortable in consumer-facing roles and adept at ensuring satisfaction.

The engineering team also often has to update systems, processes, or actual physical structures and machines. A healthy sense of creativity helps.

Finally, while not necessarily mandatory, an engineering leader should possess a good degree of leadership qualities, which require a higher level of emotional intelligence than other, non-management positions.

Assessing Soft Skills During the Interview Process

Choosing the soft skillset that matters most to you and makes the most sense for your organization is relatively easy—but how can you assess candidates on multiple soft skills during an initial interview? Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to determine if a certain potential hire just wouldn’t blend well with your existing team. 

Create a short list of the candidates who are:

  • Friendly
  • Speak clearly
  • Answer your questions with ease
  • Ask questions when they need clarification
  • Able to maintain eye contact

Developing Soft Skills Through Training Programs

Organizations that offer training programs, whether for hard, technical skills or soft skills development, have a greater rate of overall success and lower turnover rates. This is especially true for companies with a greater percentage of Millennial employees. Bloomberg reports that Millennials are likelier to resign from positions than their Gen X and Gen Z counterparts. Using analytics can help you improve employee engagement and retention.

Recognizing the Impact of Emotional Intelligence

Engineering leaders with a high level of emotional intelligence are more apt to:

  • Understand their own best (and worst) qualities
  • Develop empathy for fellow staff, clients, and stakeholders
  • Take the time to understand a concern and respond appropriately
  • Recognize when other team members are struggling and offer encouragement

While some people seem to be born with high emotional intelligence, this is a soft skill that can be developed over time. 

Creating a Culture That Values Soft Skills

Soft skills in the workplace help cultivate a harmonious environment, open the lines of communication, and lead to long-term career satisfaction. Prioritizing how you assess and develop your team’s soft skills in tandem with technical skills can lead your organization to success. If you want to learn how soft skills are an important part of your company’s future successes, follow MRINetwork for more engaging posts like this one. Contact us to see how an executive firm can be an invaluable partnership for your organization.