15 Key Skills Needed to Succeed as a Civil Engineer

Wondering which skills are required to excel as a civil engineer? In this article, we discuss the top 20 skills needed to succeed in this competitive field.

Illustration of three people standing over the blueprints of a building

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Whether it is being responsible for the design or management of new or old infrastructure, companies are seeking the best and brightest civil engineers.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for a civil engineer is around 8%, with median pay topping $88,000 (€74,000). The numbers are comparable throughout the world, from Asia to Europe. 

But to succeed in this field, there are certain key skills you will need, regardless if you are an experienced professional or a novice civil engineer about to embark on their career. We have compiled a guide of skills you should have on your CV when applying for employment opportunities.

1. Problem-solving skills

Civil engineers generally work on complex projects and have to be involved in every stage, from planning to design. They need to be skilled problem-solvers and have to be ready to develop creative solutions in case of design issues or technical problems. They also have to solve these problems in a safe, efficient and cost-effective manner.

2. Communication skills

Communication skills are quite important for civil engineers as they often have to speak with people from diverse sectors and backgrounds. They are also required to explain complex technical issues and ideas so that an average person can understand. In addition, civil engineers need excellent listening skills to understand the needs and concerns of their co-workers. At a time when soft skills are in high demand, it might be time to improve in this area.

Want to become an effective communicator? Join Wharton School’s Improving Communication Skills course on Coursera. 

3. Critical thinking skills

Civil engineering projects are typically quite complex, with big budgets and comprehensive plans. As a result, there are often different solutions to use the most optimised solution. This requires critical thinking and the ability to weigh each possible solution's pros and cons and reach a solid decision properly.

4. Project management skills

Civil engineers are expected to see a project from start to finish. They have to work with different types of requirements, manage different types of clients and work with different professionals. They also have to work within a certain project budget and have to meet deadlines while ensuring quality. All these expectations cannot be fulfilled without having excellent project management skills.

5. Leadership skills

Civil engineers need to work with diverse teams, including architects, contractors, construction managers, suppliers and vendors, other engineers and trainees. Leading a large team can be good for the project but can also require skills so that all members feel heard, motivated and appreciated for their role. Also, good leadership is needed to provide feedback and direction in a positive and constructive manner. 

6. Organisational skills 

Order is essential during the design process of a project as well as during its implementation. Plans must be prepared and stored physically and digitally. Blueprints need to be maintained, records of cost and overall budgets must be updated on a regular basis. Supplies and materials must be regularly monitored to avoid shortages. All these require solid organisational skills – which are essential for all types of engineers.

7. Numerical skills

Civil engineers must be well-versed in mathematics and physics as this is critical for solving complex engineering problems. They often have to use mathematical formulas to calculate and determine the technical specifications of projects. In addition, concepts of physics are used to apply engineering principles when working on a project.

8. Time management skills

Civil engineers work with deadlines, and they are expected to deliver when required. The schedule is essential in a civil engineering project and is usually not taken lightly. Time is of the essence, and delays can lead to loss of money as well as credibility. Hence, a good civil engineer must have time management skills and must have the ability to meet deadlines and work based on a schedule.

9. Teamwork skills

Being a team player is a critical skill in every profession, and civil engineering is no different. Work is always more rewarding when there is teamwork, especially when the work involves something comprehensive and complex. Projects handled by civil engineers can be challenging, but with good teamwork, everything is possible.

10. Delegation skills

Civil engineering projects are usually big and complex. It is not possible to carry the burden of the whole project on one person’s shoulders. That is why civil engineers work with large teams, but if they cannot delegate properly, the people in the team will not be effectively utilised. That is why delegation and the ability to trust the right people with the right tasks is an important skill. 

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11. Visualisation skills 

Civil engineers must be able to visualise and create maps, blueprints, drawings, models and CAD software. They need to have a strong visual eye to identify what would make a project structurally stronger in terms of both design and function.

12. Creative skills

Civil engineers are required to think outside the box; therefore, creativity is an essential skill for someone who wishes to have a serious career in this field. You may have to come up with innovative solutions for difficult problems, and many times, those solutions are not run-of-the-mill ideas but something with greater novelty.

Are you a creative thinker? Enrol in the Creative Thinking: Techniques and Tools for Success course by Imperial College London.

13. Attention to detail skills

Every little detail matters for a civil engineer. It might seem minor, but it can significantly impact the overall function, structure, and design of a project. Precision is the key in civil engineering, and therefore attention to detail is a vital skill to have.

14. Technical skills

All civil engineers must have soft skills like leadership and communication, but at the same time, they cannot be successful if they do not have the necessary technical skills. They must be familiar with computer software that is being used for a particular project and must be confident about all the technicalities and the design elements involved. They have to ensure what they deliver is structurally sound on all fronts.

15. Negotiation skills

Oftentimes, big projects usually handled by civil engineers run into problems - be it budget, supply or time delays. Conflicts can arise, especially with supplies and vendors. Negotiation can help in such situations and prevent delays, increased costs, and unnecessary complications.

Are you a good negotiator? Improve your skills with ESSEC Business School’s Negotiation, Mediation and Conflict Resolution course on Coursera.

16. Budget management skills

Civil engineers always work with a budget. And these budgets are closely monitored. Exceeding budgets is not considered professional, and wastage of resources, money, time and effort are all frowned upon. Hence, a good civil engineer must have excellent budget management skills.

17. Decision-making skills

Large projects can have hiccups and complications. Time-sensitive and critical decisions may have to be taken at any given time. A good civil engineer should have the confidence and vigilance to understand a certain situation and take tough decisions to maintain the project's stability.

18. IT skills

This is the age of computers and applications. Civil engineers must be completely proficient in the use of commonly used engineering software as this is essential for design, planning and execution. Civil engineers have to work with both physical and digital technology.

19. Networking skills

Any civil engineer pursuing a long-term career in this field must connect with other professionals through engineering organisations and business networking groups. In addition, it is crucial to communicate with other industry leaders as this can open new avenues and new opportunities for the individual.

20. Adaptability skills

A broad array of projects is offered by different types of companies and people. Civil engineers also work with diverse team members with different skill sets. Flexibility is a must, and being able to adapt to different situations is an essential skill for a civil engineer.

Final thoughts

Civil engineers certainly embark on a technical career, but it is a worthwhile professional pursuit that can take you to many places, ensure you are participating in something important for the community and growing your human capital.

It is a competitive field, so the individual with the best CV and list of credentials will certainly stand out from the crowd.

Join the discussion! What other skills do you think are necessary for a civil engineer? Let us know in the comments section below!

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on March 2015.