Manager vs Engineer

No intention to start a fight to say who’s best, a manager or an engineer; rather to try and recognise a key difference in role that may clarify responsibilities for some.

There are many people in the “quality” profession with a job title that includes the word “engineer” – Quality Engineer being quite common.  This was a natural development in the 20th century as quality control and quality assurance gained ground over what was previously a focus on inspection (both self-inspection and by independent inspectors).  As UK business has seen a focus shift from manufacturing to services the term “engineer” carries less weight and, in some ways, has negative connotations – after all, the person that you shout on to unjam the office photocopier is an “engineer”.  It’s become a term associated with manual trades – which is not meant to be derogatory as many such people are highly skilled and undervalued.  However, they are not “engineers’ in the full sense of the word.  Indeed, in some countries (Germany, for example) it is illegal to call oneself an engineer without formal accreditation.  Manager, in a job title, carries far more status (and, usually, financial remuneration).

So a Quality Engineer often carries little status within an organisation (or society at large) – which is a pity as these are the very people who can make the difference between business success and failure.  Let me present two definitions for consideration:

Manager: a person who utilises the available resources to their maximum advantage in order to meet the organisation’s objectives.  The resources may be people, materials or systems; they may be limited or (within reason) unlimited in scope; the objectives may be loosely or tightly defined.  It’s not easy being a good manager and good managers deserve recognition.

Engineer: a person who applies an understanding of theory for improvement.  This might or might not have a technical involvement; it doesn’t necessarily involve what the general public would see as “engineering” – it could be what used to be called “Business Process Reengineering”, for example;  it could result in incremental or step-change improvement; it could be the solution of a problem.  The key point is that a good engineer tries to understand the theory behind the current situation to drive improvement.

We need managers and engineers – it’s certainly not an “either/or” situation – but neither should we see that “manager” is necessarily better or more deserving than “engineer”.  Both need opportunities to develop and demonstrate their competence and both need recognition.

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