on May 10th, 2012

Dear Colleagues

We all know that no one is indispensable – companies and people come and go. Even the owner or “boss” of a business is often a fragile commodity.  So go a step further and drive yourself and your organisation into becoming more indispensable with a few strategies suggested below.

A few suggestions on being more indispensable in your job:

1.  Make sure you are The Expert in your firm on an engineering or technology topic. Pick a “hot useful” topic, learn it inside out and use this know-how to contribute to your firm and clients. Become well known as the local and indispensable expert who takes delight in assisting and educating everyone on this difficult topic - both in your organisation and to your clients. Whether it be in the field of advanced process control, PID Tuning, industrial data communications or electrical harmonics on an oil and gas platform.

2. Write well and document what you do in simple English. Most engineering professionals hate writing and documenting things. Someone technical with this skill, therefore, quickly becomes well known and respected. For example, supplementing your text with clear drawings and diagrams and a neatly-structured spreadsheet listing I/O addresses and interface details would make your work useful and memorable.

3. Communicate brilliantly and passionately. Being able to communicate simply and effectively (avoiding jargon) is always highly regarded. Make opportunities to attend professional development classes that focus on critical thinking and presentation skills or join a group like Toastmasters International which will give you practice.

4. Observe and learn about the changes occurring in your field. Change is guaranteed and not always welcome - especially when you have spent your career investing in a particular skill.  For example, a decade or so ago, you had to know about handling a drawing board and 4-20mA process loops. Today you need skills in handling information flow, Gigabit Ethernet, industrial wireless and TCP/IP addressing. So watch for changes, be prepared to change and where possible avoid backing a career dead end.

5. Hitch a lift with a magic carpet rider. There are employees going places in an organisation that can be fairly easily identified. They show clear signs of leadership with their enthusiasm, innovative thinking, competence and involvement in pioneering and ultimately productive projects. Endeavouring to work in their departments is far more intelligent than working for and with dead-end colleagues and managers – those who tend to be cynical, negative and disappointed with the firms they work for and with their own careers.

6. Discuss your career with your manager. Put a plan together of where you want to go with your career over a 6 to 12 month period. In the plan consider; type of work and experience, progress and a forecast, education or professional development and naturally salary. Don’t haggle with your manager on salaries, however, and play your firm off against a job offer from another firm - you are likely to be labelled mercenary and untrustworthy. Keep an eye on salaries, though, with comparable jobs in the market and ensure your management is aware of any discrepancies. In tough economic times flexibility with salaries is more challenging, but you may be able to negotiate on intangible benefits. These include things such as; more time off, longer holidays, opportunities for experience in other areas of the firm, training and education.

7. Make a point of understanding the business side of your firm. This is mainly what your senior managers are interested in - after all. Whether this involves financial, marketing or legal issues – gaining some knowledge in the relevant areas and contributing intelligently will make your managers sit up and take notice - your advice may even become invaluable and sort-after.

8. It is the long haul and persistence that matters. Don’t worry about short term setbacks in your career development. Reassess your direction every now and again, by all means; but ultimately set your objectives and keep trucking doggedly in their direction. Don’t give up or compromise.

Make sure that in your firm and with your clients you are considered one of the best there is in terms of reliability and technical know-how.

With the rapid changes occurring today in engineering, I reckon Theodore Roosevelt was spot on when he remarked: Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell 'em, 'Certainly I can!' Then get busy and find out how to do it.

Yours in engineering learning


Mackay’s Musings – 1st May’12 #475
125, 273 readers

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