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Engineering and Natural Sciences Managers

Key Points

  • Most engineering and natural sciences managers have previous experience as engineers, scientists, or mathematicians.
  • Projected employment growth for engineering and natural sciences managers should be closely related to growth in employment of the engineers and scientists they supervise and of the industries in which they are found.
  • Opportunities will be best for workers with strong communication and business management skills.
Nature of the Work

Engineering and natural sciences managers plan, coordinate, and direct research, design, and production activities. They may supervise engineers, scientists, and technicians, along with support personnel. These managers use their knowledge of engineering and natural sciences to oversee a variety of activities. They determine scientific and technical goals within broad outlines provided by top executives, who are discussed elsewhere in the Handbook. These goals may include improving manufacturing processes, advancing scientific research, or developing new products. Managers make detailed plans to accomplish these goals. For example, they may develop the overall concepts of a new product or identify technical problems preventing the completion of a project.

To perform effectively, they also must acquire knowledge of administrative procedures, such as budgeting, hiring, and supervision. These managers propose budgets for projects and programs and determine staff, training, and equipment needs. They hire and assign scientists, engineers, and support personnel to carry out specific parts of each project. They also supervise the work of these employees, review their output, and establish administrative procedures and policies—including environmental standards, for example.

In addition, these managers use communication skills extensively. They spend a great deal of time coordinating the activities of their unit with those of other units or organizations. They confer with higher levels of management; with financial, production, marketing, and other managers; and with contractors and equipment and materials suppliers.

Engineering managers may supervise people who design and develop machinery, products, systems, and processes, or they may direct and coordinate production, operations, quality assurance, testing, or maintenance in industrial plants. Many are plant engineers, who direct and coordinate the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of equipment and machinery in industrial plants. Others manage research and development teams that produce new products and processes or improve existing ones.

Natural sciences managers oversee the work of life and physical scientists (including agricultural scientists, chemists, biologists, , medical scientists, and physicists). These managers direct research and development projects and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production. They may work on basic research projects or on commercial activities. Science managers sometimes conduct their own research in addition to managing the work of others.

Working Conditions

Engineering and natural sciences managers spend most of their time in an office. Some managers, however, also may work in laboratories, where they may be exposed to the same conditions as research scientists, or in industrial plants, where they may be exposed to the same conditions as production workers. Most managers work at least 40 hours a week and may work much longer on occasion to meet project deadlines. Some may experience considerable pressure to meet technical or scientific goals on a short deadline or within a tight budget.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Strong technical knowledge is essential for engineering and natural sciences managers, who must understand and guide the work of their subordinatescd and explain the work in nontechnical terms to senior management and potential customers. Therefore, these management positions usually require work experience and formal education as an engineer, scientist, or mathematician.

Most engineering managers begin their careers as engineers, after completing a bachelor’s degree in the field. To advance to higher level positions, engineers generally must assume management responsibility. To fill management positions, employers seek engineers who possess administrative and communication skills in addition to technical knowledge in their specialty. Many engineers gain these skills by obtaining a master’s degree in engineering management or a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). Employers often pay for such training. In large firms, some courses required in these degree programs may be offered onsite. Typically, engineers who prefer to manage in technical areas pursue a master’s degree in engineering management, while those interested in nontechnical management earn an MBA.

Many science managers begin their careers as scientists, such as chemists, biologists, geologists, or mathematicians. Most scientists or mathematicians engaged in basic research have a Ph.D.; some in applied research and other activities may have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Science managers must be specialists in the work they supervise. In addition, employers prefer managers with good communication and administrative skills. Graduate programs allow scientists to augment their undergraduate training with instruction in other fields, such as management or computer technology. Given the rapid pace of scientific developments, science managers must continuously upgrade their knowledge.

Engineering and natural sciences managers may advance to progressively higher leadership positions within their discipline. Some may become managers in nontechnical areas such as marketing, human resources, or sales. In high technology firms, managers in nontechnical areas often must possess the same specialized knowledge as do managers in technical areas. For example, employers in an engineering firm may prefer to hire experienced engineers as sales workers because the complex services offered by the firm can be marketed only by someone with specialized engineering knowledge. Such sales workers could eventually advance to jobs as sales managers.


Engineering and natural sciences managers held about 233,000 jobs in 2004. About 27 percent worked in professional, scientific, and technical services industries, primarily for firms providing architectural, engineering, and related services; computer systems design and related services; and scientific research and development services. Manufacturing industries employed 37 percent of engineering and natural sciences managers. Manufacturing industries with the largest employment include those producing computer and electronic equipment; transportation equipment, including aerospace products and parts; chemicals, including pharmaceuticals; and machinery manufacturing. Other large employers include government agencies and telecommunications and utilities companies.

Job Outlook

Employment of engineering and natural sciences managers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014—in line with projected employment growth in engineering and most sciences. However, many additional jobs will result from the need to replace managers who retire or move into other occupations. Opportunities for obtaining a management position will be best for workers with advanced technical knowledge and strong communication skills. Because engineering and natural sciences managers are involved in their firms’ financial, production, and marketing activities, business management skills are also important.

Projected employment growth for engineering and natural sciences managers should be closely related to the growth of the occupations they supervise and of the industries in which they are found. For example, opportunities for managers should be better in rapidly growing areas of engineering—such as environmental and biomedical engineering—than in more slowly growing areas, such as nuclear and aerospace engineering. (See the statements on engineers and on life and physical scientists elsewhere in the Handbook.) In addition, many employers are finding it more efficient to contract engineering and science management services to outside companies and consultants, creating good opportunities for managers in management services and management, scientific, and technical consulting firms.


Earnings for engineering and natural sciences managers vary by specialty and by level of responsibility. Median annual earnings of engineering managers were $97,630 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $78,820 and $121,090. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of engineering managers in May 2004 are shown below:

Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing $116,400
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 107,160
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 103,570
Federal government 97,000
Architectural, engineering, and related services 96,020

Median annual earnings of natural sciences managers were $88,660 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $64,550 and $118,210. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of natural sciences managers in May 2004 are shown below:

Scientific research and development services $106,530
Federal government 81,460

A survey of manufacturing firms, conducted by Abbot, Langer & Associates, found that engineering department managers and superintendents earned a median annual income of $89,232 in 2004, while research and development managers earned $90,377.

In addition, engineering and natural sciences managers, especially those at higher levels, often receive more benefits—such as expense accounts, stock option plans, and bonuses—than do nonmanagerial workers in their organizations.

Related Occupations

The work of engineering and natural sciences managers is closely related to that of engineers; mathematicians; and physical and life scientists, including agricultural and food scientists, atmospheric scientists, biological scientists, conservation scientists and foresters, chemists and materials scientists, environmental scientists and hydrologists, geoscientists, medical scientists, and physicists and astronomers. It also is related to the work of other managers, especially top executives.

  • Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,


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