The Civil Engineering Boss Who “Knows It All.”

June 9, 2011 at 10:13 am 9 comments

By Carol A. Metzner
President, The Metzner Group, LLC and
Managing Partner, A/E/P Central, LLC home of
  View Carol’s profile & connect with her on LinkedIn

There is an old saying, “Those who think they know everything, annoy those of us who really do!” 🙂

We work for them, next to them or with them. The civil engineer who “knows it all.” Just ask him and he will tell you. And he will tell you with the utmost confidence that what he is saying is as correct as the sky is blue.  As an executive recruiter, one who speaks with civil engineers and architects ALL day, I often hear:

My supervisor (could be the CEO through to a Project Engineer) thinks they have all the answers and that their solutions are the ONLY correct solutions. It is known as “follow their way or take the highway,” so to speak.

Many “know it all” personalities are really folks manifesting their insecurities through stubbornness. What are some solutions to dealing with this on a daily basis?

-Go out of your way to make the supervisor know you have his back;

-Find ways to personally connect with him to build bridges of trust;

If he thinks you have his best interests at heart and trusts you, then he will be more likely to consider your opinion. Look for ways to help him become more successful in his position (perhaps sending topical technical articles).  But be forewarned,  if you can’t do this sincerely, then don’t do it at all.

-Consider his solution- could it be the best?

-Suggest well thought out alternative solutions;

-Ask for feedback on any flaws in your suggested plan so you can learn;

-Try to be open-minded to his reasons for pushing his solution and ask questions;

-Check with colleagues to see if they are having similar issues;

-If your Human Resources Department has a feedback mechanism for confidential information, let them know of the situation;

-Leave. Start looking for another job.

By all means, do not be confrontational in your approach with your supervisor. The “know it all” will shut you down and possibly roadblock your career.  Unfortunately, many “know it all” types end up running, and often ruining civil engineering companies.

What experiences have you had AND what happened to the “know it all” that you knew? How did you deal with the situation?

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Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Disgruntled civil  |  March 28, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Yeah I’m working under a man like this now. He’s on the fast track because he’s the CEO’s son. Now, I understand a PM wanting his plans done a certain way, after all, its his/her seal. However, CEO junior is bossy about any task, whether he’s signing or not. In any team environment, he alone knows what is right and what is best. He will even go into CAD himself and do it his way and then tell you about it later. His frequent fall back is, “I was talkin to my dad about it and….” His dad is a bully too, and as soon as he mentions his dad, most people will get scared off, even senior project managers.

  • 2. Top 10 Blog Posts of 2011 from «  |  December 27, 2011 at 10:11 am

    […] 3.      The Civil Engineering Boss Who “Knows it All” […]

  • 3. Anthony Fasano  |  June 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Excellent article Carol, very true and it is great that you give guidance around how to approach this situation ans change your ways!

  • 4. John Alajov  |  June 10, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    The times of the encyclopedist, such as Leonardo, are long gone. In this day and age it is all but impossible to know everything about everything. As a professional civil engineer with over 20 years experience in the field I agree that the only successful teams are those where each member performs to the top of their ability, their ideas are considered, critical thinking is nourished, success and accomplishments are celebrated. But when it comes to how things are designed and what solutions shall be implemented – there is only one opinion that matters – that of the professional engineer who stamps and singes the construction documents and assumes the entire responsibility for the project and for the team performance.

  • 5. Zachary B. Collins  |  June 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    HAHA. I actually have that sign above my desk “Those of you who think you know it all, are annoying those of us who do.” I found it in some roadside store in West Virginia and read it out loud to my wife….She bought it for me! It is my personality, but I’m trying to correct it, so it’s a nice daily reminder for me to be better. I wonder if I was like this BEFORE I became an engineer or BECAUSE of it…HMMM

  • 6. Robert Handy  |  June 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Thank you

  • 7. Gary Springs  |  June 10, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I’ve found this isn’t just limited to engineers. It’s also very common among other types of consultants and regulators and I’ve had to work both for and with. All of the above suggestions are true and work, however I will add this: It’s also possible to be too accommodating.

    I had a situation recently where such a personality got unprofessional in front of a client. I pulled this person aside and quietly but firmly explained that such behavior is unprofessional and that I would not stand for it. The individual actually conceded and apologized.

    It’s all part of the balance to be achieved. Be accommodating and build trust while at the same time demonstrate that you are ready, willing, and able to stick to your guns when you need to. In this way you can also build respect.

  • 8. jagoda  |  June 10, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    This is second blog post i read here. And, frankly, I don’t understand what is happening out there.
    Here, where I live and work, we discuss about every problem. I have some experience (working about 27-28 years on field, supervision, different projects) but I never talk with younger colleagues like I know everything. I still learn every day……
    And with younger colleagues? I push them to think constructive, we discuss, and try to find best solution. Sometimes we confront, but not argue. No conflicts.
    Good result is the most important (construction work, supervision or project).

  • 9. Stephen Hinton  |  June 9, 2011 at 11:39 am

    This is a great post because it gives constructive advice on how to handle the situation rather resorting to confrontation and conflict. Great job Carol.


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