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Why Leadership Development Is Critical in STEM Careers

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Discussions centered around advancement in STEM professions typically focus on the high-level technical skills and knowledge professionals need to excel. Launching a career in STEM certainly requires skills related to engineering, mathematics, computer science and technology. Increasingly, many STEM professionals also use skills related to data analytics, data visualization, information systems and data mining. However, technical ability alone may not be enough to propel a STEM career forward — particularly when technologists aspire to join the C-suite.

Most STEM projects require the input of many contributors with math, engineering and science skills. For complex scientific and engineering undertakings to succeed, they also need shape and direction, strategic planning, monitoring and clear and effective communication among contributors. That is where strong leadership skills are crucial. Leaders in STEM fields frequently have years of technical work experience under their belts plus highly developed managerial competencies gained in on-campus and online master's degree programs.

There is no one perfect master's degree pathway for aspiring STEM leaders. Some enroll in engineering management programs. Others choose master's-level computer science or data science programs. Still others enroll in graduate-level business analytics programs designed to nurture technical and managerial skills in the leaders of tomorrow's technology-driven organizations.

The Analytics Master of Business Administration (AMBA) at Stevens Institute of Technology's School of Business is one such program. The core courses in the interdisciplinary AMBA curriculum teach students fluency in the language of business, how to apply technological innovation in corporate contexts and the utility of business intelligence in decision-making. It is an 100% online MBA program that helps professionals from various fields think like business analysts and act as leaders by developing competencies outlined in more detail below.

SIX CRITICAL COMPETENCIES FOR STEM LEADERS

Effective leadership is essential in every industry, but becoming a leader takes more work in some fields than others. A human resources manager may advance quickly with a bachelor's degree and a talent for employee engagement. At the same time, an international business professional may find they cannot advance without a graduate degree from a college of business with top-tier accreditation. STEM leaders face unique demands that require hard skills and soft skills in equal measure. Graduate programs geared toward these professionals often cover a range of topics designed to develop competencies, such as:

VISION EXECUTION

Moving STEM projects forward involves more than making sound business decisions in the moment. Project management and oversight in engineering, science and technology involves formulating end goals and envisioning the processes required to achieve them, determining what tasks must be completed by what teams to keep the project on track, building teams of experts capable of executing the plan efficiently and using data analysis to measure progress.

Leaders must be confident using predictive analytics and forecasting to plot a course for their teams or entire organizations. They must have a thorough understanding of operations management to create long-term plans and managerial economics to ensure there are sufficient resources.

Several courses in the online Analytics MBA program develop skills related to vision execution. For example, "Human-Centered Design Thinking" teaches students to leverage this problem-solving approach that upends assumptions and redefines challenges to visualize better processes and products. In "Strategic Management," AMBA candidates learn to develop and implement organizational strategy and policy in competitive environments.

RISK ASSESSMENT

Risk is an unavoidable element of innovation. Leaders in STEM fields and other disciplines cannot mitigate every risk. Instead, they must evaluate the cost, impact and probability of potential risks to determine acceptable levels of risk and account for specific risks in strategic plans. Some risks are challenging to quantify. A leader might question whether existing teams have the technical skills necessary to meet particular objectives. Others can be mapped out and managed using historical data and business analytics. Online students enrolled in the Stevens Institute of Technology AMBA program hone the skills they need to use data analytics to measure risk and promote confidence in their vision in courses such as "Business Analytics" and "Advanced Data Analytics and Machine Learning."

COMMUNICATION

Leaders in all industries must be skilled communicators. However, effective communication is especially crucial in STEM, given the complexity of science, engineering and technology projects. STEM leaders need to communicate their visions, short- and long-term plans, each team's responsibilities, risk mitigation strategies and project goals. More importantly, leaders must be able to foster intra- and inter-team communication and communicate progress using quantifiable metrics to executives and board members.

Leveraging analytics in areas such as key performance indicator (KPI) tracking can add structure and context when leaders communicate with stakeholders who may be less technologically savvy. Choosing an MBA program with an analytics specialization is one way engineers, computer scientists and other STEM professionals can prepare for success in technology management roles. The "Leadership Development" course in the StevensOnline AMBA curriculum develops soft skills critical for project success, including communication.

RESOURCE ALLOCATION

Intelligent resource allocation management is a critical element of project success. Some organizations rely heavily on enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, but prepackaged software platforms are often costly and difficult to use. They may also offer few, if any, options for customization. More importantly, ERP systems are optimized for resource sufficiency. When conditions change — for example, if there is a parts shortage or a particular resource is challenging to obtain — leaders can turn to analytics for insights ERP solutions cannot always deliver.

Resource allocation challenges can pose an insurmountable barrier to success, which is why organizations in fields as diverse as healthcare and manufacturing are leveraging business data to allocate resources more efficiently — particularly during periods of uncertainty. The "Applied Analytics" course puts AMBA candidates to work tackling increasingly complex business problems as a way to learn how to leverage data to improve systems.

TEAM BUILDING

Top-performing organizations tend to be overseen by leaders who relentlessly nurture creative collaboration. People do not always associate STEM careers with creativity, but imagination is at the heart of innovation. Influential leaders build cohesive teams and develop processes and policies that support turning creative ideas into innovations that drive business results. They also know how to mediate interactions, remedy conflict and facilitate negotiation among team members with varied professional backgrounds when progress slows down or stalls. This type of people management is one of the fundamental pillars of leadership, and it is covered in the "Leadership Development" coursework.

PROGRESS MONITORING

Progress monitoring drives project optimization in all fields. Ideally, it involves more than simply tracking timelines and deliverables. Leaders who are comfortable applying foundational data analytics principles to project management can coordinate teams to maximize productivity, allocate resources more effectively and pivot quickly when an approach is not working. The AMBA curriculum develops a broad set of skills that support data-driven process monitoring in STEM fields as well as in other disciplines.

WHAT IT IS LIKE TO DEVELOP LEADERSHIP SKILLS IN STEVENS' ONLINE AMBA PROGRAM

Rapid advancements in technology and the explosion of Big Data coupled with issues such as the current supply chain crisis and COVID are changing what leadership entails. More and more organizations are investing in analytics, which means leaders in and out of the STEM professions must be comfortable identifying and assessing opportunities for creating value using data-driven decision-making.

Stevens' 39-credit hour part-time Online Analytics MBA combines instruction in management and analytics to train leaders fluent in analytics technology, processes and results and effective leadership. The program, which is led by industry leaders and renowned researchers, prepares professionals from various fields to solve complex business problems and create value in their organizations using information.

Developing leadership competencies and soft skills is increasingly the only way to advance in technical fields. Completing the StevensOnline Analytics MBA degree program is a straightforward way to grow in your STEM career and make a more significant impact.

When you are ready to hone your leadership skills alongside other professionals motivated to drive change in STEM and other fields, apply online to earn your AMBA.