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Mechanical engineers are often known more for their skilled handling of machinery than their way with words. Yet for every finished product that comes across the assembly line, there’s an engineer communicating ideas, conveying expectations and coordinating efforts with team members and stakeholders. What’s said in a few choice words can be as important as what’s seen in a computer-aided design (CAD) model.

The University of Texas at Austin offers two 100% online engineering programs, the Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering and the Mechanical Engineering Controls Graduate Certificate, renowned for helping engineers take their skill sets to the next level. We pride ourselves on producing well-rounded professionals with a firm grasp on essential skills, both technical and interpersonal. In the list below, we’ll be looking at five essential soft skills for mechanical engineers and how they can be refined in our virtual classrooms.

1. Creativity

Finding out-of-the-box solutions to engineering problems is one of the chief responsibilities of a mechanical engineer. The ability to design, redesign and analyze products to design specifications requires more than an understanding of current trends and technology, although it certainly helps. It requires a passion for looking at a problem from all angles to find a novel solution.

How can mechanical engineers boost their creativity? Practice. Graduate students in our Executive Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering program are taught to innovate through action. In one of their first assignments, students are tasked with finding a solution to an engineering-related problem in their personal or professional lives. This is just one example of our program’s experiential learning opportunities that give professionals a chance to flex their creative muscles.

2. Emotional Intelligence  

Think about the qualities possessed by the leaders you’ve looked up to most in your life. These individuals likely offered words of encouragement freely, valued the opinions of others and cared for those around them. Hiring managers, who are struggling to find emotionally intelligent candidates, rank these skills above all others when considering applicants, especially when filling leadership positions. The reason is apparent. According to Forbes, empathetic managers who are inclusive and emotionally supportive help employees do their best and “encourage those traits across the board and build a much stronger workplace culture.”

The same holds true for mechanical engineer team leads, who are responsible for building and developing a team of engineers. Unless a mechanical engineer can display the empathy needed to not only impress hiring managers but also inspire a team, they’re going to have a difficult time advancing in their career.

3. Communication

How many times has a perfectly formed thought tumbled out of your mouth in a ramble? Proper communication entails more than speaking with confidence. It requires conscious effort to listen actively, show genuine interest in the person speaking and respond after careful consideration. Electronic correspondence requires similar attention to detail. Mechanical engineers, who spend much of their time meeting with stakeholders and writing reports, proposals and recommendations, must be able to communicate effectively in any format.

UT Austin students master written and verbal communication skills in our 100% online mechanical engineering programs. During group discussions, students engage with professors and the fellow Texas Engineers within their cohort. The Sanger Learning Center and the University Writing Center offer additional opportunities for engineering students to refine their communication skills.

4. Teamwork

Working with design engineers, technical engineers and other professionals, mechanical engineers must be able to collaborate. Team players don’t wait to be asked before offering assistance; they’re at the ready with words of encouragement and a fresh perspective, regardless of the skill level of their peers. Team environments improve morale and productivity, and a professional invested in his or her team will go above and beyond to ensure its success.

Until you’re willing and able to reconcile the pursuit of your personal goals with the shared goals of your team, you’ll be unprepared to step into a leadership position.

5. Leadership

The essential qualities of a great leader, as listed by Inc., are clarity, decisiveness, courage, passion and humility.

Leadership skills, then, seem to involve conflicting characteristics: confident yet humble, or bold yet reserved. The challenge comes from knowing which quality, or combination of qualities, to employ in a given situation. Skilled mechanical engineering leaders take accountability when expectations aren’t met and take a step back when praise is heaped upon their team. They exhibit patience at all times, except when a situation demands action. Perhaps most importantly, they know when to let others take the lead.

We’ll let you in on a little secret: Leaders aren’t born, they’re made. Leadership skills may be among the most difficult to acquire and develop, but with practice, anyone can become a leader worthy of loyalty.

Become a Well-Rounded Engineer at UT Austin

There’s a common misconception that soft skills aren’t quantifiable and are therefore less valuable than hard skills, but we don’t think that’s true. The value of interpersonal skills is apparent with every successful partnership, meeting and interview. These interpersonal skills don’t come at the cost of engineering skills. Rather, they allow mechanical engineers to utilize their skill sets to the fullest extent. Every finished product that comes off the assembly line is the result of a team of engineers sitting together, sharing thoughts and giving feedback — bouncing ideas off each other until they find one that sticks.

UT Austin’s 100% online mechanical engineering programs empower professionals by helping to improve their technical and interpersonal skills. Our executive master’s degree program provides a comprehensive overview of mechanical engineering topics, while our newly launched Mechanical Engineering Controls Graduate Certificate program takes an in-depth look at the control and optimization of processes and systems. Guided by expert faculty members and supported by fellow engineers, students in either program develop and refine their interpersonal skills, graduating with everything they need to ensure professional success.

Interested in expanding your skill set? Apply to one of our 100% online engineering programs to become a well-rounded professional ready for any situation.


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