The Unwritten Laws of Engineering (2001, Revisions by Skakoon, Original by King); My Notes

I’m taking notes from the revised edition produced by James G. Skakoon, which includes the original by W. J. King. The original was first published as three articles in Mechanical Engineering in 1944, and was reprinted most recently in 1994.

I consider this essential reading for those seeking to enter the engineering profession and wish that I had invested the time into a thorough reading of this book before I began the pursuit of my petroleum engineering degree.


The originating author wrote the book after observing that the chief obstacles to the success of individual engineers or of groups of engineers are of a personal and administrative rather than a technical nature

He and his associates were getting into trouble for violating the undocumented laws of professional conduct, rather than by committing technical sins against science

These laws are like the basic laws of society; they cannot be violated too often with impunity, notwithstanding striking exceptions in individual cases

Part I – What the Beginner Needs to Learn at Once

In Relation to the Work

However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts

  • The spirit and effectiveness with which you tackle your first humble tasks will very likely be carefully watched and may affect your entire career
  • It is fundamentally true that if you take care of your present job well, the future will take care of itself
    • Particularly so within large corporations, which constantly search for competent people to move into more responsible positions
  • If you do not make a good showing on your present job you are not likely to be given the opportunity to try something else more to your liking

Demonstrate the ability to get things done

Three basic characteristics can be ascribed to those able to get things done:

  1. Initiative; expressed in energy to start things and aggressiveness to keep them moving briskly
  2. Resourcefulness or ingenuity; the faculty for finding ways to accomplish the desired result
  3. Persistence (tenacity); the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference

Do not lack persistence, lest you be grouped amongst those “good starters but poor finishers”

In carrying out a project, do not wait passively for anyone – suppliers, sales people, colleagues, supervisors – to make good on their delivery promises; go after them and keep relentlessly after them

  • Most jobs progress in direct proportion to the amount of follow-up and expediting that is applied to them
    • Expediting means planning, investigating, promotion, and facilitating every step in the process
  • Look immediately for some way around each obstacle encountered to keep the job rolling without losing momentum, but…
  • Do not make yourself obnoxious through incessant pestering

Confirm your instructions and the other person’s commitments in writing

  • Many people have poor memories, others are too busy, and almost everyone will take the matter more seriously if it is in writing
  • At times it pays to copy a third person as a witness

When sent out on a business trip of any kind, prepare for it, execute the business to completion, and follow up after you return

Any trip to the field deserves your special attention to return the maximum benefit for the time and expense. Be sure to:

  • Plan the travel
    • Consider all eventualities such as lost luggage, missed connections, late arrivals, and unusual traffic
    • Arrive on time and ready to perform: “If you can’t be on time, be early!”
  • Plan and prepare for the business to be done
    • Distribute agendas before you arrive
    • Send ahead any material to be reviewed
    • Be sure everything is complete
    • Practice any presentations beforehand
    • Allow those you visit to prepare fully
  • Complete the business at hand
    • If you have been sent out to complete a specific task, and the allotted time proves inadequate for whatever reason, stay until the job is complete
    • No one will be happy if another engineer has to be sent out later to finish what you did not
  • Execute the appropriate follow-up
    • Use meeting minutes, trip reports, and further communications to your best advantage

Develop a “Let’s go see!” attitude

When people approach you with problems they have observed for which you are responsible, invite them to have a look with you – “Let’s go see!” – rather than remaining at your desk and speculating

  • Before being able to solve a problem, you need insight.
    • Insight can only be developed by observing first-hand

Avoid the very appearance of vacillating

The extremes of obstinacy and dogmatism should be avoided, but remember that reversed decisions could be held against you

Don’t be timid – speak up – express yourself and promote your ideas

There are times when it is wise to keep silent, but, as a rule, it pays to express your point of view whenever you can contribute something

  • The quiet individual who says nothing is usually credited with having nothing to say
  • The first person to speak up with a definite and plausible proposal often has a better-than-even chance of carrying the floor
  • The person who talks most knowingly and confidently about the project will often be assigned to carry it out
    • If you do not want the job, say nothing and you’ll be overlooked, but you’ll also be overlooked when it comes time to assign larger responsibilities

Strive for conciseness and clarity in oral or written reports

State the essence of the matter as succinctly as possible first

  • Convey the maximum of significant information in the minimum of time
  • When it is difficult to get a direct answer out of you, your usefulness is greatly diminished
  • The literary inverted pyramid:
    • Start with the single most important fact, the one that the audience most know before learning more
    • Broaden the pyramid by constructing each sentence to build upon its predecessor
    • Present your facts in the order of importance, as if you might be cut off at any minute

Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements

A reputation for dependability and reliability can be one of your most valuable assets

  • Do not habitually guess when you do not know the answer to a direct question, lest you lose the confidence of your peers and superiors
  • If you do not know, say so, but also say, “I’ll find out right away”
  • If you are not certain, indicate the exact degree of certainty or approximation upon which your answer is based

In Relation to Your Supervisor

Every manager must know what goes on in his or her domain

A manager cannot manage successfully without knowing what’s going on

One of the first things you owe your supervisor is to keep him or her informed of all significant developments

The main question is: How much must a manager know – how many of the details?

  • In the majority of cases, the manager’s problem is to extract enough information to keep adequately posted
  • It is much safer to risk having your supervisor say, “Don’t bother me with so many details,” than to allow your supervisor to say, “Why doesn’t someone tell me these things?”
  • Your manager is constantly called upon to account for, defend, and explain your activities to others, as well as to coordinate these activities into a larger plan
    • Provide all the information that is needed for these purposes
  • In event of unexpected problems or failures, the best you can hope to do is to develop solutions to present alongside the problem, so that they can be implemented with the greatest urgency

Do not overlook the steadfast truth that your direct supervisor is your “boss”

Primarily you should be working for and through your supervisor, the manager to whom you directly report

  • If conflict arises, remember that resolving conflicts is part of every manager’s job, your supervisor’s included
  • Generally speaking, you cannot get by whoever evaluates your performance

Be as particular as you can in the selection of your supervisor

The influence of senior engineers and the engineer to whom you report is a major factor in molding your professional character

  • A properly selected mentor will have experience necessary to guide you through obstacles much easier than you can manage alone
  • What if the supervisor is lousy?
    • Either accept your boss as representative of a higher authority and keep plowing, or move to some other department, division, or company at the first opportunity

Whatever your supervisor wants done takes top priority

Your boss has good reasons for wanting a job done now

  • Unless you obtain permission it is usually unwise to put any other project ahead of a specific assignment from your own supervisor

Whenever you are asked by your manager to do something, you are expected to do exactly that

Violation of this law puts your trustworthiness at risk

  • Break this law only when you are certain that circumstances demand it, and that the others involved will agree with your decision
  • Whenever assigned to perform a specific task, you have two possible responses: you do it exactly as requested, or you come back and talk it over some more
  • It is unacceptable either not to do it, or to do something different instead
  • If you are concerned that the planned action isn’t worth doing as originally assigned (in view of new data or events), you are obligated to discuss the entire matter again, stating your intentions and reasons so that your manager can reconsider it
  • You will sometimes want to prove your initiative by doing not only the assigned task, but also something in addition thereto: these can be done in addition to your original assignment, and your drive and inventiveness will be immediately apparent

Do not be too anxious to defer to or embrace your manager’s instructions

In general, a program laid down is a proposal, rather than an edict

  • Keep others informed of what you have done at reasonable intervals
  • Ask for approval of any well-considered and properly planned deviations that you may have conceived

Regarding Relations with Colleagues and Outsiders

Never invade the domain of any other department without the knowledge and consent of the manager in charge

The rule applies particularly to:

  • The employment of a subordinate
    • There may be excellent reasons why that person should not be disturbed
  • Engaging the time or committing the services of someone from a different department or division for some particular project or trip
    • Do not step over the line without direct authority
  • Dealings with customers or outsiders, with particular reference to making promises or commitments involving another department
    • Managers of the department may have very good reasons not to want these promises made or not to be able to keep them
  • Performing any function assigned to another department or individual
    • The law is based upon three underlying principles
      1. Most people strongly dislike having anyone undermining their job by appropriating their functions
      2. The individual who is in charge of the job usually knows much more about it than you do, and chances are that you’ll overlook some important factor
      3.  Whenever you are performing the other person’s function you are probably neglecting your own
  • In general you will get no credit or thanks for doing the other person’s job at the expense of your own
  • If you put your own house in order first, then an understanding of and an active interest in the affairs of others will lead to promotion to a position of greater responsibility

In all transactions be careful to “deal in” everyone who has a right to be in

Most people do not like to be left out when they have a stake in the matter, and the effect upon morale may be serious

  • There will be crisis times when you have to move ahead with little regard for personal consequences, but you cannot do it with impunity too often
  • You should give others a fair chance to deliver on their own or else agree to have you take over
  • If you must offend in this respect, at least you should realize that you are being offensive

Cultivate the habit of seeking other peoples’ opinions and recommendations

As a beginning engineer, you must ask for help from others because you cannot possibly know all you must about your field and your employer’s business

This is particularly useful during a confrontation of any sort

  • A good first question to ask is: “What do you recommend?”
    • A warning: condescending attitudes toward others and their opinions are gratuitous and unwelcome
      • If you have no intention of listening to, properly considering, and perhaps using someone’s information or opinion, don’t ask for it

Promises, schedules, and estimates are necessary and important instruments in a well-ordered business

You must make promises based upon your own estimates for the part of the job for which you are responsible, together with estimates obtained from contributing departments for their parts

  • Even the most uncertain case can be narrowed down by first asking, “Will it be done in a matter of a few hours or a few months, a few days or a few weeks?”
  • You have a right to insist upon having estimates from responsible representatives of other departments
    • Make sure that you are dealing with a properly qualified representative
    • When you ignore or discount other engineers’ promises you dismiss their responsibility and incur the extra liability yourself

When you are dissatisfied with the service of another department, make your complaint to the individual most directly responsible for the function involved

Complaints made to an individual’s supervisors, over his or her head, engender strong resentment and should be resorted to only when direct appeal fails

  • Give the individual a fair chance to correct the grievance, make sure that they are aware of any dissatisfaction
  • There are individuals who would never forgive you for complaining to their supervisor without giving them a fair chance to take care of the matter
  • It is almost as serious an offense to send a person’s supervisor a copy of a document containing a complaint or an implied criticism
  • There are exceptions – just be sure you know what you are doing

In dealing with customers and outsiders, remember that you represent the company, ostensibly with full responsibility and authority

Most outsiders will regard you as a legal, financial, and technical agent of your company in all transactions, so be careful of your commitments

Part II – Relating Chiefly to Engineering Managers

The following is a partial list of basic commandments, readily subscribed to by all managers, but practiced only by the really good ones

Individual Behavior and Technique

Every manager must know what goes on in his or her domain

This applies primarily to major or significant developments and does not mean that you should attempt to keep up with all the minor details of functions assigned to subordinates

Do not try to do it all yourself

You must delegate responsibility even if you could cover all of the ground yourself

  • Executives should have their business organized so that they could be away on business or vacation at any time and still have everything go along smoothly
  • Don’t excuse yourself by saying that subordinates are too young or inexperienced: it’s part of your job to develop your subordinates, which includes developing initiative, resourcefulness, and judgment
    • Load them with all the responsibility they can carry without danger of serious embarrassment to any person or group
  • Where details matter, make sure that they are handled by engineers of appropriate competence and experience and that all considerations have been made

Put first things first in applying yourself to your job

Develop the habit of concentrating on the important things first: those for which you are held directly responsible and accountable

  • Assign these responsibilities top priority in budgeting your time; then delegate as many as possible of the items that will not fit into your schedule
  • Draw upon all available resources for assistance
    • Especially true in a large organization, where the service of others can almost always get an answer more efficiently than you could independently
  • There will be cases in which it would be wise for you to limit yourself, personally or as a business manager, to performing only those functions to which you can bring some special talent, skill, or contribution, or in which you enjoy some natural advantage
  • The common belief that everyone can do anything if they just try hard enough is a formula for inefficiency at best and for complete failure at worst

Cultivate the habit of “boiling matters down” to their simplest terms

Make it a practice to integrate, condense, summarize, and simplify your facts rather than expand, ramify, complicate, and disintegrate them

  • Getting to the heart of the matter is one of the most valuable qualities of a good executive

Do not get excited in engineering emergencies – keep your feet on the ground

Most crises aren’t half as bad as they appear at first, so make it a point not to magnify a bad situation

  • Do not ignore signs of trouble, but learn to distinguish between isolated cases and real epidemics
  • Hazards – human safety or environmental – warrant an immediate, aggressive response; potential liability demands it
  • Get the facts first, as promptly and as directly was possible. Then act as soon as you have enough evidence from responsible sources to enable you to reach a sound decision

Engineering meetings should neither be too large nor too small

Skill is required to manage a sizable meeting so as to keep it on the proper subject, avoiding long-winded digressions or reiterations of the arguments

  • It should be the function of the chairperson, or the presiding manager, to bring out the pertinent facts bearing upon the matter, in their logical order, and then to secure agreement upon the various issues by asking for general assent to concrete proposals, taking a vote, or making discretionary decision
  • Small meetings (three or four persons) can arrive at solutions much more effectively than large meetings
    • Drawbacks lie in that all interested parties may not be represented, and considerable mischief may result from failing to take account of significant facts or points of view
      • Strong resentment or discouragement may be aroused in the neglected parties
  • In general it is fitting, proper, and helpful to have present those whose particular territory is under discussion
  • A worthwhile guideline to observe is to limit attendees to two levels of the organizational structure, especially for working, decision-making meetings
    • A third or fourth level in attendance has no decision-making power anyway, practically speaking; aside from the exception of presenting information their presence is usually wasteful
      • If lower levels can make decision on the items being discussed, attendance by the higher level people is even more wasteful
  • In any meeting, face the issues and dispose of them
  • Count any meeting a failure that doest not end up with a definite understanding as to what’s going to be done, who’s going to do it, and when, and this should be confirmed in written minutes

Cultivate the habit of making brisk, clean-cut decision

This is the most difficult and important part of a manager’s job. It can be hastened by observing a few simple principles:

  1. Decisions will be easier and more frequently correct if you have the essential facts at hand
    • Keep well informed, or else bring out the relevant facts before attempting a decision
    • Ask yourself when in doubt: “Am I likely to lose more by giving a snap judgment or by waiting for more information?”
  2. The application of judgment can be facilitated by formulating it into principles, policies, and precepts in advance
    • Make up your own code, if you will, but at least have some sort of code
  3. You do not have to right every time
  4. The fact that a decision is difficult usually means that the advantages and drawbacks of the various alternatives are pretty well balanced, so that the net loss cannot amount to much in any event
    • It is frequently more important to arrive at somer decision promptly than to arrive at the best decision ultimately
  5. It is futile to try to keep everybody happy in deciding issues involving several incompatible points of view
    • Give everyone a fair hearing, but after all parties have had their say and all facts are on the table, dispose of the matter decisively even if someone’s toes are stepped on

When the factors are indecisive, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it expedite and forward the undertaking, or doers it only produce procrastination and delay?
  • Is it fair and sure and aboveboard?
  • Is it in line with established custom, precedence, or policy? A good reason is generally required for departure
  • Is it in line with a previous specific decision or understanding? Even a good reason for making a change will sometimes not offset the impression of apparent instability
  • What are the odds? Can we accept the risk? How does the possible penalty compare with the possible gain in each of the alternatives offered?

Do not allow the danger of making a mistake to inhibit your initiative to the point of “nothing ventured, nothing gained”

  • Expect to make mistakes, take a few good risks now and then, and take your medicine when you lose
  • There are few mistakes that cannot be turned into profit somehow, even if only for the experience
  • Never mistake the true meaning of the statement, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes”
  • Incorrect decision resulting in catastrophic consequences such as huge financial losses or personal injury will not be overlooked
  • Make clear-cut, swift decisions, but only if a mistake won’t create wreckage for your organization – and you

Do not overlook the value of suitable “preparation” before announcing a major decision or policy

It is good diplomacy to prepare the ground for such announcements by discussing the matter in advance with various key personnel or directly interested parties

  • Much embarrassment and bad feeling can be caused by announcing a major change or embarking upon a new program or policy without consulting those directly affected or those who are apt to bring up violent objections later on

Managing Design and Development Projects

Learn project management skills and techniques, then apply them to the activities that you manage

Examples include resource planning, calendar scheduling, and progress tracking

To manage projects properly you must plan your work, then work your plan

Project Management Institute’s Best Practices

  1. Define your project’s objectives
  2. Plan the job by:
    • outlining the steps to be accomplished;
    • defining the required resources, including people, money, and facilities;
    • preparing a definite schedule
  3. Execute the plan
  4. Monitor the progress and respond to deviations
    • Watch for bottlenecks; hit lagging items hard by applying additional time, money, and people
    • Revise your schedule as required
  5. Drive to a finish on time

Plan your development work far enough ahead of production so as to meet schedules without a wild last-minute rush

Everyone has the natural tendency to become preoccupied with one’s own problems and areas of expertise, and to underestimate or even ignore those of other departments of disciplines

  • Have foresight to offset this natural tendency
  • Plan the program early enough and provide for all stages in the process of getting it done

Beware of seeking too much comfort in planning your engineering programs

Too much preoccupation with the pursuit of security is apt to lead to greater danger and insecurity

You must take chances – bold and courageous chances – or else others will, and they will win out just often enough to keep you running, trying to catch up

  • Set a high mark and then work aggressively to meet it
    • With competent direction any representative engineering organization will work its way out of a tight spot under the pressure of the emergency
  • To minimize the risk inherent in aggressive programs, it is good policy to hedge against failure by providing an alternative, wherever practicable

Be content to “freeze” a new design when the development has progressed far enough

In general you have gone far enough when you meet the design specifications and budget, with just enough time left to complete the remainder of the program on schedule

  • There will always be new design improvements coming along, but it is usually better to get started with what you have developed on time, provided only that it is up to the specifications for features, quality, and cost

Constantly review projects to make certain that actual benefits are in line with costs in money, time, and human resources

Projects are often carried along by virtue of Newton’s first law of motion long after they could ever yield a satisfactory return on the investment

Make it a rule to require, and submit, regular periodic progress reports, as well as final reports on completed projects

Your business simply isn’t fully organized and controlled until you have established this practice

  • No other instrument is as compelling and effective in requiring an engineer to keep the facts properly assembled and appraised
  • Generally speaking, an engineering project isn’t finished until it is properly summarized, recorded, and filed such that the information can readily be located and used by all interested parties
    • An enormous amount of effort can be wasted or duplicated in an engineering department when this sort of information is simply entrusted to the memory of individual engineers

On Organizational Structures

Make sure that everyone has been assigned definite positions and responsibilities within the organization

It is detrimental to morale and efficiency when employees do not know just what their jobs are or what they are responsible for

  • Effect organization changes as soon as they become reasonably clear; changing them later is better than leaving people in poorly or improperly defined positions
  • Matrix organization links employees to at least two managers: one for a project and one for a discipline
    • Functional discipline supervisor usually has administrative authority over the employee

Make sure that everyone has the authority they need to execute their jobs and meet their responsibilities

Authority must be commensurate with responsibility

  • Ideally each individual should have full authority and control over all of the factors essential to the performance of his or her particular job (budgets, expenditures, and personnel)
    • Although seldom achievable, the amount of dependency on others should be kept to a practical minimum; increased dependency results in increased difficulty in getting things done
  • Encourage yourself and your subordinates to assume, albeit delicately, however much authority is needed to do the job

Make sure that all activities and all individuals are supervised by someone competent in the subject matter involved

Ideally, every novice engineer working in a technological area should be supervised by a veteran seasoned in the same area

  • Offer subordinates complete competence and instill in them the same when overseeing them in their technical activities
  • Complement yourself with other experienced people under your supervision, people who can properly judge what you cannot, thereby shoring up any breaks in your expertise
  • Assign technical as well as project responsibilities to every engineer in the organization, and then have the technical experts act as consultants for others
  • Conventional guidelines suggest having no more than six or seven people report to one supervisor
    • Never deprive an employee of adequate supervision because of a lopsided reporting structure

What All Managers Owe Their Employees

Never misrepresent a subordinate’s performance during performance appraisals

You have the obligation to do this as accurately as possible

It is also your responsibility to talk things over with employees if – and as soon as – you become sincerely dissatisfied with their work, or you recognize deficiencies that are working against them

  • Remember that she you fire someone for incompetence, it means not only that the employee has failed, but also that you have failed

Make it unquestionably clear what is expected of employees

Communicate explicitly the expectations on the job: it is not enough to hope for certain behaviors or performance from your subordinates

  • Follow up with monitoring and support

Promote the personal and professional interests of your employees on all occasions

This is the opportunity and the privilege of every manager

  • The interests of individual engineers ought to coincide with the company’s interests
  • It is to the company’s advantage to preserve the morale and loyalty of individual engineers
    • This has reached a healthy development when employees feel that they will always get a square deal, plus a little extra consideration on occasions

Do not hang on to employees too selfishly when they are offered a better opportunity elsewhere

You are justified in shielding your people from outside offers only when you are sincerely convinced that they have an equal or better opportunity where they are

  • Consider soliciting the opinion of the employee involved; it is his or her career, not yours
  • Select and train backups for all key personnel, including yourself

Do not short-circuit or override your subordinates if you can possibly avoid it

It can be very demoralizing to the subordinate involved when managerial authority is exercised without regard to the engineer assigned to the job

  • Once you assign jobs to your people, let them do those jobs, even at the cost of some inconvenience to yourself
  • You can do irreparable damage by exercising authority without sufficient knowledge of the details of the matter

You owe it to your subordinates to keep them properly informed

Hold occasional meetings to acquaint employees with major policies and developments in the business of the department and the company

  • Furnish engineers with ample background knowledge in their particular domain
  • There are occasions when it is worthwhile to send young engineers along on trips what they can get out of a job, regardless of how little they can directly contribute
  • Include interested individuals in introductions, luncheons, and so on, when hosting visitors

Do not criticize a subordinate in front of others, especially his or her own subordinates

This damages prestige and morale

Be very careful not to criticize someone when it is really your own fault

  • Did you fail to advise, or warn, or train the individual properly?

Show an interest in what your employees are doing

Inquire, comment, or otherwise take notice of your employees’ work – a little goes a long way

Never miss a chance to commend or reward subordinates for a job well done

A first-rate manager is a leader as well as a critic

  • Help, advise, encourage, and stimulate your subordinates
  • Never miss a chance to build up the prestige of your subordinates in the eyes of others
  • However, get tough when the occasion justifies it

Always accept full responsibility for your group and the individuals in it

You are credited with the success as well as the failure of your group – never pass the buck or blame any of your employees, even when they may have let you down badly

Do all you can to see that your subordinates get all of the salary to which they are entitled

Any recommendation or an increase in compensation must be justified on one of these three bases: outstanding work, greater responsibility, or increased value to the company

Do all you can to protect the personal interests of your subordinates and their families

Most employees will appreciate your honest, unprying interest in their lives outside of the workplace

  • In event of personal difficulties, offer your support
  • Respect the family and religious desires and obligations of your employees

Treat your people as human beings making up a team rather than as cogs in a machine

Managers who insist, at every opportunity, upon flagrantly displaying power over their subordinates by disrupting their personal lives can expect bitterness and resentment in return

Part III – Professional and Personal Considerations

A number of empirical studies of on-the-job excellence have clearly and repeatedly established that emotional competencies – communication, interpersonal skills, self-control, and so on – “play a far larger role in superior job performance than do cognitive abilities and technical expertise” (Goleman)

Laws of Character and Personality

One of the most valuable personal traits is the ability to get along with all kinds of people

The prime requisite of personality in any type of industrial organization; generally be good-natured and friendly and fairly consistent in observing the Golden Rule

  1. Cultivate the tendency to appreciate the good qualities, rather than the shortcomings, of each individual
  2. Do not give vent to impatience and annoyance on slight provocation
  3. Do not harbor grudges after disagreements involving honest differences of opinion
  4. Form the habit of considering the feelings and interests of others
  5. Do not become unduly preoccupied with your own selfish interests
  6. Make it a rule to help the other person whenever an opportunity arises
  7. Be particularly careful to be fair on all occasions
  8. Do not take yourself or your work too seriously
  9. Put yourself out just a little to be genuinely cordial in greeting people
  10. Give people the benefit of the doubt if you are inclined to suspect their motives, especially when you can afford to do so

Do not be too affable

It is a mistake to try too hard to get along with everybody merely by being agreeable or even submissive on all occasions

  • Do not give ground too quickly just to avoid a fight, when you know you’re in the right
  • You can earn the respect of your associates by demonstrating your readiness to engage in a good fight when your objectives are worth fighting for – just don’t make it personal
  • With subordinates it is unwise to carry friendliness to the extent of impairing discipline

Discipline is not resented so long as it is reasonable, impartial, and fair, especially when it is balanced by appropriate praise, appreciation, and compensation

Regard your personal integrity as one of your most important assets

Maintain the highest standards for honesty and sincerity of which you are capable

  • The reward for uncompromising integrity is confidence: the confidence of associates, subordinates, and outsiders
  • Let your word be your bond, and your motives lie above question

Never underestimate the extent of your professional responsibility and personal liability

An engineer is uniquely positioned with the power and knowledge to create, identify, avoid, and correct problems

  • You contribute to making decisions, whether the results are good, bad, or catastrophic
  • Approach all of your engineering systematically, especially when developing new products, processes, or equipment
  • Identify and apply the requisite expertise to all engineering activities
  • Be aware of and use applicable codes and standards
  • Use established procedures for design reviews and failure analyses
  • Keep records of your and your department’s engineering activities

Let ethical behavior govern your actions and those of your company

Having the courage of your convictions includes having the courage to do what you know to be right, technically as well as ethically and morally, without undue fear of possible criticism or of the need to explain your actions

  • Know what is ethically right, both for you and for your company, and then act appropriately

Regarding Behavior in the Workplace

Be aware of the effect that your personal appearance has on others and, in turn, on you

Three rules of thumb will serve you well:

  1. Look at how those in the positions to which you aspire are dressed and groomed, then follow their lead
  2. Dress appropriately for the occasion, whatever it is, including everyday work. When in doubt, slightly overdressing is prudent
  3. Conservative styles and colors in clothing as well as conservative grooming will never be wrong, at least in most engineering circles
    • Clothing should be clean, well-fitting, and in good condition
    • Hair and nails should be clean and well-kept
    • Perfumes and colognes should be used sparingly, if at all, in the workplace
    • Men should pay particular attention to shaving habits and the trimming of beards and mustaches

Refrain from using profanity in the workplace

Not using profanity will never be offensive to anyone

Take it upon yourself to learn what constitutes harassment and discrimination – racial, ethnic, sexual, religious – and tolerate it not at all in yourself, your colleagues, your subordinates, or your company

There is no room in the workplace for harassment or discrimination of any kind

  • Confronting a colleague or subordinate on such matters must be handled discretely and delicately
  • Whether you are a target or an observer of suspected harassment or discrimination, you may choose to informally approach the alleged offender directly, but any formal discipline should be handled together with your manager, personnel department, or both

Beware of what you commit to writing and of who will read it

Be careful about who gets copies of your letters, memos, and messages, in whatever form or medium they are created, especially when the interests of other departments are involved

  • If a message is to be distributed widely or if it concerns manufacturing or customer difficulties, you’d better get a higher authority to review and approve it before it goes out
  • Once you have issued something in writing, you will have relinquished control of its distribution and its life
  • Anger, malice, disrespect, and ridicule toward another will be remembered in written documents forever, which may be long after you wish they had been forgotten

Beware of using your employer’s resources for personal purposes. It may be considered suspicious at best, and larcenous at worst

Whenever you use your company’s property, equipment, or supplies for anything other than company business, you risk suspicion

  • Your employer has every right to investigate your behavior, including examining all of your personal domain at work for any evidence of misconduct
  • For what little you will likely gain by appropriating anything of your employer’s assets, in the end it is not worth the risk, even if only to your integrity

Regarding Career and Personal Development

Maintain your employability as well as that of your subordinates

If your skills and knowledge are valuable only to your current employer, you are in trouble

  • Be an adherent and a proponent of life-long learning
  • You must find ways to keep up-to-date on new technology in your field regardless of how much or how little your employer supports you

Analyze yourself and your subordinates

Simply recognizing that people are remarkably different will help you accept different personalities as normal, and not to view them as somehow wrong

Consider when and how much managerial and administrative responsibility is appropriate

  • It has been assumed that any normal individual will be interested in either
    • Advancement to a position of greater responsibility
      • There should be other ways of rewarding an employee for outstanding accomplishment, outside of increased executive and administrative responsibility
        • People are sometimes surprised to find that they are much less happy in a new, higher-level job than they thought they were going to be
        • It by no means follows that a good engineer will make a good manager
    • Improvement in personal effectiveness as regards quantity and quality of accomplishment

Do what you do best; you will also be the happiest

  • Try to improve your best traits and make them the most visible


It will pay for you to contemplate at least a little of the rules of the game to develop your own set of principles and practices to guide you through your professional career

To engineers interested in improving their professional effectiveness further, study in not only technical, but also in professional and administrative subjects is recommended

Release Early …

I sincerely apologize to anyone who has come to my website looking for petroleum engineering notes only to find a long series of stubs.

The good news today is that I have started releasing new content. You’ll find content for ES2013 – Statics, PE2113 – Rock Properties, PE3023 – Reservoir Engineering, and PE3013 – Computer Applications in Petroleum Engineering available now.

If you come across any broken links or other problems, contact me.