The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Engineering

In a recent study published in the journal Career Development International, researchers investigated the effectiveness of engineers and how this relates to their IQ, personality and emotional intelligence. Of these factors, it was revealed that only one predicted how well they were doing: emotional intelligence. This does not mean that IQ or personality is not important; after all engineers have excellent maths and science skills. The results merely shed light on the importance of emotional intelligence for success in this age.

Emotional intelligence is important for a number of reasons. First of all, engineers design things to be used by other people. The ability to understand their customers’ needs and empathise with the end users of their creations are key elements for creating successful, user-friendly and value-adding products and services. Secondly, as engineering becomes less of a solo act and more of a team endeavour, engineers with better people skills will excel in communicating and in delivering their engineering tasks.

Emotional intelligence encompasses four main skills: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social-Awareness and Relationship-Management. Besides technical competencies, these skills increasingly appear on the requirement lists of employers when searching for potential engineering personnel. At Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, a number of programmes have been specifically developed to enable students to effectively develop these necessary skills. One such programme is the Youth Transformation Programme, which is an experiential programme that is aimed at cultivating emotional intelligence in students. Furthermore, the design-based curriculum and the project-based learning used in the university’s teaching methodology accommodates the development of social and interpersonal skills within an engineering context.

Prof Mushtak Al-Atabi.Heriot-Watt University Malaysia

Emotionally intelligent engineers portray other signs like the ability to effectively operate within different cultural settings and the ability to be appreciative of cultural differences. Supporting this development, Heriot-Watt University uses its global footprint (with campuses in Edinburgh, Dubai and Malaysia) to benefit its students with global learning opportunities and cross-campus networking and experiences. This is done through its Go Global programme that seamlessly transfers students from their home campus to other campuses for a semester or more. Annually, an average of 120 students from Malaysia transfer to the UK, while 100 UK students transfer to Malaysia. This creates a highly diverse learning environment and prepares students for global work opportunities.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution dawns on us with the promise and threat of automating many of our jobs, emotional intelligence gains even more significance. Computers and robots are becoming increasingly smarter, and many of the tasks that used to represent the bread and butter of engineers are now performed much faster and cheaper using software. Emotional intelligence and the ability to make a connection with another fellow human being remain in the realm of humans, and it is predicted that engineering and other professions will move on to demand and develop these capabilities in future graduates.

Developing these personal and social skills is not only important for achieving success in the workplace, it also important to develop resilience and happy, healthy and balanced lives.  Within a highly uncertain world and with globally increasing rates for mental health issues, being resilient and happy becomes a necessity. That is why Heriot-Watt University Malaysia started #AHappierU initiative to create a happy and resilient community. The initiative focuses on promoting several keys for happier living, such as giving, awareness and exercising.

Success in the 21st century will require developing not only technical competencies but also emotional intelligence. Choosing a degree programme that acknowledges and develops emotional and social capabilities will be the first step towards a meaningful, happy and successful life.

Heriot-Watt University Malaysia is currently accepting students for its July Foundation programme. To find out more about Heriot-Watt University Malaysia’s #AHappierU initiative, its undergraduate and foundation programmes or scholarships on offer, visit its campus in Putrajaya during its Open Days or during consultation hours which are from 9am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays and 10am to 4pm on Saturdays. Alternatively, log on to or call +603 8894 3888/e-mail This article was written by Prof Mushtak Al-Atabi, Provost & CEO of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia.

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