How to Become a Chief Engineer (With Salary and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're interested in a career in engineering, you may want to consider a role as a chief engineer. A chief engineer leads an engineering team in completing projects and works closely with other professionals in the field to safely and effectively finish projects on schedule. Learning about the many responsibilities for chief engineers and the educational requirements for the role can help you decide if it's a career you want to pursue further. In this article, we explain how to become a chief engineer, explore their duties, skills and work environment and share their average base salary.

How to become a chief engineer

Knowing how to become a chief engineer can help you take steps towards getting a job as the highest-ranking engineer within an organisation. Following these steps can help you advance in your engineering career to a chief engineer role:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The first step to becoming a chief engineer is earning a bachelor's degree, which is a requirement for entering the field of engineering. The area of study you choose depends on your career goals and the type of engineering you want to pursue. Candidates can usually choose from one of four engineering degrees:

  • Mechanical: Mechanical engineers design and produce mechanical equipment.

  • Civil: Civil engineers design plans for infrastructure like roads and bridges.

  • Electrical: Electrical engineers create electronic and electromagnetic systems for products.

  • Chemical: Chemical engineers focus on developing chemical plants and the products they produce.

Depending on the field of engineering you choose to earn a degree in, you may also concentrate on an area within that field. For example, mechanical engineers often specialise in areas such as aeronautical, production or industrial engineering. Specialising allows you to gain specific knowledge that can help you grow in your career and may improve your chances for career advancement.

Related: What Does a Civil Engineer Do? (Definition and Skills)

2. Gain experience in the field

Chief engineers begin their careers in an entry-level role. Different engineering fields have their own hierarchies for advancing from entry-level to management or chief engineer positions, but they often include multiple levels. After gaining a few years of experience, entry-level engineers may move up to an intermediate role, where they continue to gain experience before achieving a senior position. Chief engineers usually have at least 10 years of experience before being promoted to their role.

3. Build your professional network

Gaining experience in the field also gives you the opportunity to network with peers, colleagues and management. Networking is important because it allows you to connect with others in the field when you're looking to advance in your career. When you work with people who have witnessed your knowledge, skills and professional demeanour, keeping them in your network can be helpful when you want references for a job. You can also contact your network to ask if they can recommend you for any open positions.

4. Join professional organisations

Like networks, professional organisations can connect you with other engineering professionals and offer you growth opportunities such as training programmes, certifications, conferences and publications. They also make it easier to stay updated on emerging topics in your field, which is important for any professional seeking a leadership role. Engineering organisations you may consider joining include:

  • Professional Engineers Board (PEB): The Ministry of National Development runs this organisation, which offers government certification for engineers that some employers may require.

  • Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES): Membership in the IES includes benefits such as continuing education courses, networking opportunities and publications.

  • Association of Consulting Engineers Singapore (ACES): ACES offers a membership registry for consulting engineers who want to demonstrate their commitment to ethical practices and industry standards.

5. Consider a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree

A Master of Engineering (MEng) is a research-based master's degree that allows you to gain in-depth knowledge about the field by conducting and presenting your own research. MEng degrees typically take approximately two to three years to complete, although the length varies depending on whether you attend a full-time or part-time programme. This degree can prepare you to pursue a doctoral degree in engineering or contribute to your credentials as an experienced professional in the field, which may help you get a job as a chief engineer.

Related: How to Become an Engineer: Definition, Roles and Skills

Primary chief engineer duties

A chief engineer's duties depend on the type of engineering they specialise in, their level of experience as leaders and their employer. Here are some common chief engineer duties:

  • supervising projects from start to finish

  • communicating company goals to all the engineers on their team

  • determining the total time and cost for each project, including the cost of labour and materials

  • ensuring projects stay within their budgetary constraints and remain on-deadline

  • delegating responsibilities to each member of their engineering team

  • approving budgets and designs

  • negotiating with clients and vendors

  • supervising the training of their staff

  • overseeing the installation of equipment

  • performing quality control checks for products and systems

  • using conflict resolution strategies to resolve disputes between team members

  • acknowledging and rewarding team members who perform well

  • examining data and creating reports for a board of directors

Chief engineer work environments

Chief engineers work in a variety of different industries, including manufacturing companies, engineering, architectural companies, government organisations, scientific research and developmental services, and within the management department of enterprise companies. They can also work in a variety of different environments, including an office, construction site or production factory. They often collaborate with other members of a company's managerial staff to ensure teams complete projects efficiently.

Related: 14 Types of Engineering Jobs (With Salary Information)

Salary for a chief engineer

The salary you may earn as a chief engineer depends on many factors, such as your experience in engineering, the size of the organisation you work for, your level of education and the geographic area where you work. The national average salary for a chief engineer is $6,415 per month. You may earn a higher salary than average if you have extensive experience in the field.

Related: How to Ask for an Increase in Salary (Steps and Example)

Skills that can help you succeed as a chief engineer

If you want to be a chief engineer, it's important to master skills that would allow you to perform efficiently in your role. Here are some common skills that can help you succeed as a chief engineer:

Leadership skills

Chief engineers manage a team of engineers, so they use advanced leadership skills to manage and motivate their teams effectively. Some specific leadership skills that chief engineers use are patience, active listening and mentorship skills. Developing these skills can help chief engineers develop positive professional relationships with their teams, which can increase motivation and productivity.

Related: 9 Essential Engineering Skills to Include in Your Resume

Analytical skills

Chief engineers use analytical skills to estimate a project's cost and the time they expect it to take to complete the project. They gather information from different sources and then interpret that information to reach a logical conclusion. Chief engineers may also use analytical skills to research complex issues and develop strategies for resolving them.

Communication skills

Chief engineers use strong verbal communication skills to manage a team and work closely with other managers. They communicate with others in a manner that's concise and easy to understand, especially when discussing complicated concepts with people without a background in engineering. Written communication skills allow them to create reports or project status updates for boards of directors and clients. The ability to communicate with engineering teams and clients by phone and email also helps chief engineers ensure productivity and maintain business relationships.

Negotiation skills

Chief engineers are often responsible for negotiating contracts with vendors. Developing negotiation skills allows them to meet the budgetary restraints of projects while establishing relationships with new clients. Negotiation skills also involve the use of communication skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively and establish a rapport with clients, which can help both parties reach a compromise on contracts. Negotiation skills can also help chief engineers nurture relationships with existing clients by building trust and mutual respect.

Related: 15 Good Negotiation Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Mathematical skills

Chief engineers use their mathematical backgrounds to perform modelling and other mathematical calculations. They often use mathematics to evaluate projects and develop physical plans for certain types of projects, such as building construction, aircraft production and chemical manufacturing. Chief engineers may also use statistics to assess their projects, determine their effectiveness and change their designs as needed to improve efficiency.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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