4 mins

Even if you are not particularly sure about becoming an engineering manager yet, the more you progress in seniority in your individual contributor (IC) career, the more interesting it is to focus on your leadership skills.

Unlike technical skills, leadership skills vary from person to person, and organization to organization. Depending on what point of your career you are at, leadership could mean fostering psychological safety within a team, mentoring junior peers, or communicating clearly with both technical and non-technical teammates.

As you progress in your career, you will likely find yourself in a position of influence over others, so it’s never too early to build and sharpen your leadership skills

Understanding your organization

Leadership is a skill that can be trained, but it needs time and planning. Just as you wouldn’t implement an API without checking the documentation, start by building a deeper understanding of the organization you work at.

In our industry, leadership can be broken down into three broad areas: technical direction, projects, and people.

The weight of your influence on each of these areas will depend on how your team works. Does your department currently have a big focus on tackling tech debt? Does your product manager (PM) often seek feedback from the tech team? What does the culture look like? Does one single person take care of all the Agile ceremonies, or is there room to decentralize this role?

I strongly recommend having a look around you to try to answer these questions. Also, having a chat about it with your manager can hopefully help you find some opportunities you hadn’t thought of. Perhaps you can start leading the next retrospective, or try to make sure doing that refactoring has room in your team’s roadmap.

Leading everyday

While understanding your organization is key in the process of becoming a leader, I believe you don’t need to have everything figured out before getting there. You can (and should) start leading in your day-to-day as an engineer, for which I would like to share some examples putting the focus on the three main usual leadership pillars.

Technical direction

As a software engineer, you have the most knowledge about what’s going on in your codebase and across your stack. Use that knowledge to flex your leadership muscles.

Having a robust codebase that is easy to maintain is not only important for you as an engineer, it’s important for the business.

If you work in an Agile team, you are probably in a position to stand up and identify that piece of tech debt that is slowing you all down and sharpen your communication skills by pitching to your PM to make room for it in the roadmap.


It doesn’t matter if you use Agile or waterfall, every company could optimize some steps in their project management processes.

For more senior engineers (and those aspiring to become leads) you need to shift your focus from an individual perspective to a more holistic (or team focused) one. Ask yourself: “How can my contributions to the team improve this project’s health?”

You can help here by supporting your peers when they are stuck, making sure code reviews happen smoothly and quickly enough, and challenging your engineering and product managers if you think the amount of work is not reasonable to happen within a sprint.


A fundamental leadership quality is the ability to create a trusting environment where everybody feels safe, listened to, and respected.

Being able to create psychological safety is not something that magically happens when you get put into a position to lead. It’s something that you need to foster with your everyday actions, and by being willing to educate yourself and listen to other points of view.

These are all things that you can and should start being mindful of from the earliest stage of your career. Think of a code review: Are you usually respectful in your comments, and are you able to address any issue without making it personal?

When a more junior colleague doesn’t understand something, do you usually pay attention to them and encourage them to voice their concerns? When you write a ticket or post something in a Slack channel, is your language inclusive of all genders?

Creating psychological safety starts by being mindful of the diversity around you and making sure you contribute to letting everyone share a psychologically safe space.

The best time to start is now

Whether you want to grow in your career as an IC, or you are interested in becoming a manager, it’s worth developing your leadership skills early on. As an engineer, it can help you become more influential in your organization and maximize the potential of your team, and there are many actions you can start doing in your day-to-day.

While getting to better understand your organization can be crucial, you can start putting your focus on these three areas:

  • Technical direction: Focus on finding those gaps in technology that can have an impact on the overall organization. Trying to convince your team leads to implement your ideas can help you improve your communication skills.
  • Projects: Shift your focus from “me” to “us”. What are the common pain points in your team’s delivery? Don’t hesitate to speak up so your team’s projects run more smoothly.
  • People: A good leader is someone who creates psychological safety around them. Be open to grow and learn from others, and make sure everybody in your team is respected and listened to in your daily interactions.