Leadership best practices shared by military engineers

Posted in: Energy, Military, Water


Tulsa SAME Members Visit New $48M park in Tulsa. Field trips are an important incentive for volunteer organizations
Tulsa SAME Members Visit New $48M park in Tulsa. Field trips are an important incentive for volunteer organizations

Many of my clients and partnering firms are current or former military engineers. Good leadership practices have commonalities. It doesn’t matter whether it is on a project team, within a partnering arrangement, for my company or as a member of a professional organization… good leadership is a learned, acquired skill.

In “Active involvement in professional organization is a must for any serious engineer” I discussed the value of professional organizations. My conviction was reinforced at the recent SAME Post Leader’s Workshop, where I was able to engage and share best practices with 157 post leaders including some from Europe and the Pacific. I also received valuable leadership training.

The basics of leadership

Let me begin with a list that I see as the ‘basics’ of leadership:

  • There is more than one way to do something.
  • Listening is a leadership skill.
  • Give in to the fact that technology rules.
  • Never underestimate the fun factor.
  • Be visionary.
  • Be empathetic, so that team members can be honest and discuss their frustrations.
  • Be aware of the lives you touch.

Mark Levin, President of B.A.I, Inc lead the SAME Workshop leadership training, which was focused on volunteer organization leaders. However, it was very applicable to management and relationship-building in the public and private sectors.

If you want people to be engaged in your organization, your company or your team, you must provide value. Your brand and messaging must convey something unique or special.

The membership chair is the most visible member of a leadership team. The person you identify as responsible for recruitment and engagement must be outgoing, motivated, congenial and analytical. He/she should have great communication skills, be organized and have the time to do a good job.

An organization’s leadership should take the time to understand what team members want and expect from their involvement. According to a recent business survey, a ranking of the top five things employees are looking for is:

  1. A sense of accomplishment
  2. Recognition for good work
  3. Pay
  4. Job security
  5. Making use of my abilities

If you are a pulling together the right team for a volunteer organization, then #3 pay is off the table. This makes the other four issues that much more important.

Finding the right people. Member involvement. Running a meeting well.

For those of us in architecture, engineering and construction we know the hiring market is tight. This is true of volunteer organizations too. The single biggest leadership challenge is recruiting the right people… the right way. In other words, you must:

  • Align the job with the abilities and skills of the person being recruited.
  • Stress the importance of the job. No one wants to waste their free time doing something unimportant.
  • Be honest and specific about the requirements (hours/month).

Encouraging cross generational involvement, particularly the Millennials, can be a struggle. Suggestions to involve younger members included increasing the organization leadership’s and organization’s visibility on social media. Consider deploying a heavy use of digital communication to reach a younger demographic.

The workshop training included how to organize and run effective, efficient board meetings. These, in particular, I found valuable in any leadership situation. Here are a few tips:

  • Send the agenda ahead of time.
  • Invite new members in prior to first meeting with time to bring them “up to speed”.
  • Have clear rules of engagement.
  • Use leading questions to solicit input.
  • Vote on key decisions.
  • Have the secretary review key items discussed, decisions taken, and tasks with responsibilities and suspense’s BEFORE adjourning.

I left the workshop with great leadership ideas for the Tulsa Post of SAME and in my own work at Mead & Hunt. I would highly recommend attending future SAME events.

New members of the Society of American Military Engineers being sworn in August 2018
New members of the Society of American Military Engineers being sworn in August 2018

Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

About the Author

Miro Kurka, P.E., PMP, knows water is an incredible resource. “I like leading teams and managing water infrastructure projects that make our citizens safer, wealthier and happier.” A retired U.S. Army officer, he managed the Corps of Engineers’ program in Tulsa, Portland and Afghanistan for 30 years. Miro is a SAME Fellow and SAME Deputy Regional Vice President of the TEXOMA Region (Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas). He enjoys traveling and meeting people.

Read more posts by Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

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