What Defines Australia’s Most Influential Engineers?

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Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
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Leadership qualities such as vision, drive, passion, persistence, emotional intelligence and communication skills as well as a global outlook and the ability to view problems and challenges through a systematic mindset are amongst key attributes which define influential engineers in Australia today, a member of the advisory panel for Engineers Australia Magazine’s recent 2014 Australia’s Top 100 Most Influential Engineers says.

In a recent interview, Professor Michael Dureau AM, an adjunct professor at the University of Sydney and deputy chair of the Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering told Sourceable engineers who advance to positions of leadership and influence combine many of the conventional attributes common to successful leaders with the ability of engineers trained in “The Scientific Method” to appreciate the logic and consequences of their actions.

“Basically, these are people with vision, with drive and with passion,” Dureau said when asked about attributes common to those on the Top 100 list.

“I think their leadership skills are obvious but they are not there (on the list) just because of longevity, they are there because they are movers and shakers – they have global focus and to some degree a large number of them have good communication skills and emotional intelligence.

“Another characteristic is ‘stickability’ – when they have got a goal, they stick to it until they achieve that goal.”

Furthermore, Dureau believes leaders within engineering are able to apply a scientific mindset to challenges which involves logical thought processes and sound conclusions based on available facts.

“I think they have this extra dimension that they understand the logic and the consequences of their actions much better than people who are more marketing style or accounting or legal leaders,” he said.

“Their training and their basic skills are such that they understand that when you put an input in and mix it all around, you produce an output based on how you mix it all around.”

Dureau’s comments follow last month’s publication of the aforementioned Top 100 list, which included not only business leaders such as Leighton Contractors Managing Director Craig Laslett and Fortescue Metals Chief Executive Officer Nev Power but also others from areas such as academia, industry associations and politics and even others such as renowned playwright David Williamson AO who has an engineering background but gained his foremost prominence in an unrelated field.

The comments also come as Australia faces the task of maintaining and further developing engineering skills capacity despite significant loss of opportunities in a number of manufacturing sectors.

Asked about emerging fields the country’s engineers could exploit to replace lost opportunities, Dureau – who currently sits on a number of boards and whose previous full-time career included Managing Director positions at Alstom Power and ABB Power Generation as well as a two-year stint as the President of the Australian Water Association – says these include biomedical, robotics, digital innovation in farming and agriculture and low energy emission solutions such as geothermal, biomass and capture and usage of heat energy.

But he expresses disappointment about the recent pull-back in funding for innovation, and says the nation needs to provide greater financial support to help startup companies transform promising ideas and concepts into commercial products and offerings – especially prior to the stages where traditional borrowing or venture capital become realistically available to such entities.

“Time and time again, we’ve seen companies that have developed a product which has then been lost to us because they didn’t have enough money to finalise the commercialisation,” Dureau laments.

Asked finally about how influential engineers in coming decades will differ from those today, Dureau says a number of attributes will become increasingly significant going forward, including mobility and readiness to make career or employment changes, interdisciplinary skills and the ability to understand complex systems.

Most important, however, will be the ability to bring people together as a team.

“Engineers are not normally trained in the whole area of people interaction and people skills,” Dureau says. “And a lot of the new driving forces within the training of engineers is to get them to understand more about the most important asset they have – their people.”

“I used to say when I was running a company and I was managing director of Alstom Power, ‘my success walks in the door on a Monday morning and walks out on a Friday night. And if they don’t come back on the Monday morning, I’m stuffed.’”

“My people are my success.’”

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