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Employment & Occupational Guide

Engineering, Science, and Computer Systems Managers
Source: General Services Administration

Significant Points

The majority of growth in these managerial occupations is caused by the rapid expansion of employment in computer-related occupations.

These managers need the specialized technical skills possessed by their staff to perform effectively.

Nature of the Work

Engineering, science, and computer systems managers plan, coordinate, and direct research, development, design, production, and computer-related activities. They supervise a staff which may include engineers, scientists, technicians, computer specialists, and information technology workers, along with support personnel.

Engineering, science, and computer systems managers determine scientific and technical goals within broad outlines provided by top management. These goals may include the redesigning of an aircraft, improvements in manufacturing processes, the development of a large computer program, or advances in scientific research. Managers make detailed plans for the accomplishment of these goals—for example, working with their staff, they may develop the overall concepts of new products or identify problems standing in the way of project completion. They determine the cost of and equipment and personnel needed for projects and programs. They hire and assign scientists, engineers, technicians, computer specialists, information technology workers, and support personnel to carry out specific parts of the projects. The managers supervise these employees' work, and review their designs, programs, and reports. They present ideas and projects to top management for approval or when seeking additional funds for development.

Managers coordinate the activities of their unit with other units or organizations. They confer with higher levels of management; with financial, industrial production, marketing, and other managers; and with contractors and equipment and materials suppliers. They also establish working and administrative procedures and policies.

Engineering managers supervise people who design and develop machinery, products, systems, and processes; or 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.

Science managers oversee activities in agricultural science, chemistry, biology, geology, meteorology, or physics. They manage research and development projects and direct and coordinate experimentation, testing, quality control, and production in research institutes and industrial plants. Science managers are often involved in their own research in addition to managing the work of others.

Computer systems managers direct and plan programming, computer operations, and data processing, and coordinate the development of computer hardware, systems design, and software. Top-level managers direct all computer-related activities in an organization. They analyze the computer and data information requirements of their organization and assign, schedule, and review the work of systems analysts, computer programmers, and computer operators. They determine personnel and computer hardware requirements, evaluate equipment options, and make purchasing decisions.

Some engineering, science, and computer systems managers head a section of scientists, engineers, or computer professionals and support staff. Above them are heads of divisions composed of a number of sections. A few are directors of research or of large laboratories.

Working Conditions

Engineering, science, and computer systems managers spend most of their time in an office. Some managers, however, may also work in laboratories or industrial plants, where they are normally exposed to the same conditions as research scientists and may occasionally 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 if meeting project deadlines. Some may experience considerable pressure in meeting technical or scientific goals within a short time or a tight budget.


Engineering, science, and computer systems managers held about 343,000 jobs in 1996. Although these managers are found in almost all industries, about 38 percent are employed in manufacturing, especially in the industrial machinery and equipment, electrical and electronic equipment, instruments, chemicals, and transportation equipment industries. However, the two industries employing the greatest number of these managers were engineering and architectural services and computer and data processing services; each employed about 1 in 10 in 1996. The majority are most likely engineering managers, often managing industrial research, development, and design projects. Others work for government agencies, research and testing services, communications and utilities companies, financial and insurance firms, and management and public relations services companies.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

It is essential that engineering, science, and computer systems managers have a base of technical knowledge that allows them to understand and guide the work of their subordinates and to explain the work in non-technical terms to senior management and potential customers. Therefore, experience as an engineer, mathematician, scientist, or computer professional is usually required to become an engineering, science, or computer systems manager. Educational requirements are consequently similar to those for scientists, engineers, and computer professionals.

Engineering managers first start as engineers. A bachelor's degree in engineering from an accredited engineering program is acceptable for beginning engineering jobs, but many engineers increase their chances for promotion to a managerial position by obtaining a master's degree in engineering, engineering management, or business administration. A degree in business administration or engineering management is especially useful for becoming a general manager, because these degree programs teach engineers about managing personnel and technical and financial resources.

Science managers usually start as a chemist, physicist, biologist, or other natural scientist. Most scientists engaged in basic research have a Ph.D. degree. Some in applied research and other activities may have lesser degrees. First-level science managers are usually specialists in the work they supervise. For example, the manager of a group of physicists doing optical research is almost always a physicist who is an expert in optics. Many scientific research firms are started and managed by scientists who obtain funding to build a staff and purchase technology to pursue their research agenda, with the goal of eventually developing a commercially successful product.

Most computer systems managers have been systems analysts, although some may have experience as computer engineers, programmers, operators, or other computer specialties. There is no universally accepted way of preparing for a job as a systems analyst. Many have degrees in computer or information science, computer information systems, or data processing and have experience as computer programmers. A bachelor's degree is usually required and a graduate degree is often preferred by employers. However, a few computer systems managers have associate degrees. A typical career advancement progression in a large organization would be from programmer to programmer/analyst, to systems analyst, and then to project leader or senior analyst. The first real managerial position might be as project manager, programming supervisor, systems supervisor, or software manager.

In addition to educational requirements, scientists, engineers, or computer specialists must demonstrate above-average technical skills to be considered for a promotion to manager. Superiors also look for leadership and communication skills, as well as managerial attributes such as the ability to make rational decisions, to manage time well, organize and coordinate work effectively, establish good working and personal relationships, and motivate others. Also, a successful manager must have the desire to perform management functions. Many scientists, engineers, and computer specialists want to be promoted but actually prefer doing technical work.

Some scientists and engineers become managers in marketing, personnel, purchasing, or other areas, or become general managers.

Job Outlook

Employment of engineering, science, and computer systems managers is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Underlying much of the growth of managers in science and engineering are competitive pressures and advancing technologies which force companies to update and improve products more frequently. Research and investment in plants and equipment to expand output of goods and services and to raise productivity will also add to employment requirements for science and engineering managers involved in research and development, design, and the operation and maintenance of production facilities.

Employment of computer systems managers will increase rapidly due to the fast-paced expansion of the computer and data processing services industry and the increased employment of computer systems analysts. Large computer centers are consolidating or closing as small computers become more powerful, resulting in fewer opportunities for computer systems managers at these centers. As the economy expands and as advances in technology lead to broader applications for computers, however, opportunities will increase and employment should grow rapidly.

Opportunities for those who wish to become engineering, science, and computer systems managers should be closely related to the growth of the occupations they supervise and the industries in which they are found. (See the statements on natural scientists, engineers, computer programmers, and computer scientists, computer engineers, and systems analysts elsewhere in the Handbook.) Because many engineers, natural scientists, and computer specialists are eligible for management and seek promotion, there may be substantial competition for these openings.

Many of the industries which employ engineers and scientists derive a large portion of their business from defense contracts. Because defense expenditures are being reduced, employment has declined and the job outlook for managers is not as favorable in these industries, compared to less defense-oriented industries.


Earnings for engineering, science, and computer systems managers vary by specialty and level of management. According to 1996 data, science and engineering managers had average salaries that ranged from $41,000 to well over $100,000 for the most senior managers in large organizations. According to Robert Half International, computer systems managers earned salaries ranging from $33,000 to well over $100,000, depending on establishment size. Managers often earn about 15 to 25 percent more than those they directly supervise, although there are cases in which some employees are paid more than the manager who supervises them. This is especially true in research fields.

According to a survey of workplaces in 160 metropolitan areas, lower-level engineering managers had median annual earnings of $84,200 in 1995, with the middle half earning between $76,300 and $92,800. The highest-level engineering managers had median annual earnings of $117,000, with the middle half earning between $104,000 and $133,000. Beginning systems analysts managers had median annual earnings of $60,900, with the middle half earning between $55,100 and $67,000. The most senior systems analysts managers had median annual earnings of $84,200, with the middle half earning between $76,200 and $92,000.

In addition, engineering, science, and computer systems managers, especially those at higher levels, often are provided with more benefits (such as expense accounts, stock option plans, and bonuses) than non-managerial workers in their organizations.

Related Occupations

The work of engineering, science, and computer systems managers is closely related to that of engineers, natural scientists, computer personnel, and mathematicians. It is also related to the work of other managers, especially general managers and top executives.

Sources of Additional Information

For information about a career as an engineering, science, or computer systems manager, contact the sources of additional information for engineers, natural scientists, and computer occupations that are listed in statements on these occupations elsewhere in the Handbook.







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