Your Guide to Careers in Civil Engineering and Construction Management with an Online Degree in Organizational Leadership

Written by Scott Wilson

construction management careers

Civil engineering is the foundation of life in modern society. Something as simple as the water you drink, cook with, and shower in is brought to your house through massive systems of supply and purification – then leaves through equally vast systems of sewage and treatment.

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The reservoirs that store that water extend behind massive monuments to mathematics and materials like Hoover and Grand Coulee Dams. You may drive to work across vast spans like the Golden Gate or the Brooklyn Bridge, enormous structures that took years to design and build.

We think of things like the interstate highway system or the railroads that span the continent as huge, heroic works of engineering made possible through great efforts in the distant past.

But those great heroic construction projects aren’t gone today. In fact, we live in a world on the verge of a new era of mega-projects in construction and engineering. With climate change fast bearing down on cities around the globe, with water shortages looming, and with an energy crisis waiting in the wings, it’s a sure bet that society will once again turn to engineers for salvation.

Massive offshore wind farms, huge desalination plants, space-based solar power array transmitters… it’s all on the table over the course of a career in civil engineering and construction today. With an organizational leadership degree helping you pull all the threads together; you could become an integral part of some of the big engineering triumphs that the next generation talks about.

Applying the Lessons of Organizational Leadership Studies to Civil Engineering and Construction Management

construction manager at computer monitorsMost great engineering accomplishments are stories of amazing engineering leadership. In a field dominated by numbers and rigorous safety standards, it takes a visionary who can convince people to go in new directions to overcome the greatest difficulties.

Organizational leadership helps develop that kind of vision and motivation. It teaches:

Bringing Water to the West Through Organizational Leadership Skills

hoover damThe great dams of the American West were a case in point for how organizational leadership enables great engineering. Taming the Columbia and Colorado had been dreamed of for decades to irrigate the arid deserts inland of the coast ranges. But it took a man named John Savage to make it happen.

As the Chief Engineer of the Bureau of Reclamation, Savage oversaw the design of Hoover, Shasta, and Grand Coulee Dams, among others, and eventually consulted on China’s massive Three Gorges project. He came up with innovations such as:

  • Artificial concrete cooling to speed up construction time
  • The trial load method of arch analysis to eliminate stress within massive structures
  • Twist adjustment slots to absorb hydrostatic pressure and prevent cracking

These massive projects were both too big and took too long to complete for any one single engineer or manager to oversee them to completion in every detail. But that’s exactly why the field of organizational leadership is so valuable in engineering and construction. Savage was able to see his ideas through because he could inspire and guide his teams, not micromanage them.

Organizational leadership provides the kind of skills and tools to build a grand strategic vision, communicate it to a large workforce, and to inspire them to use their own skills and initiative to get the job done.

Construction Management Is Facing All New and Fascinating Problems to be Solved

There are plenty of more artisanal and day-to-day construction projects waiting for the right leaders to step up and tackle them, too.

And there are big technology trends that are impacting how civil engineering and construction are done, ranging from massive prefabrication to the use of AI in design processes.

All these new factors represent changes in an industry that is often slow and resistant to change. Pushing design and construction teams, financiers, and the end users of these new projects toward the future is unquestionably a job for visionary leadership.

What Kind of Degree Will Prepare You with Organizational Leadership Skills Relevant to Civil Engineering and Construction Management?

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: getting an education in construction or engineering doesn’t leave you with a lot of time to study organizational leadership, too.

Civil and construction engineering covers a wide range of specialized areas of instruction. Everything from environmental engineering to construction technology offers a deep well of knowledge for you to dive into.

But engineering isn’t really a field you can just dabble in. Standards today both within the profession and the community as a whole are strict. You really need to know your stuff if you’re going to be calculating load factors for bridges or designing fire-safe structures.

So a full degree in a specialty-accredited engineering major isn’t optional. If you want to get a license, you absolutely need both that education and hands-on experience in the field to get it. Even if you’re just aiming for construction management, and don’t need a full-on engineering license, most of your studies are going to have to go toward that major.

Where does that leave you with organizational leadership degree options? Well, in most cases, you’ll have to look for concentration options that bring leadership skills into your overall engineering training.

engineer training

Bachelor’s degrees for organizational leadership skills in engineering or construction management:

  • Take about 4 years to complete
  • Include both general knowledge and specialized technical skills
  • Qualify you for entry-level positions in engineering or more advanced construction roles
  • Are found with titles such as:
    • Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) Innovation and Leadership
    • Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering – Construction Engineering and Management Specialization
    • Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering and Management Technology
    • Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership and Supervision with a concentration in Project Leadership for Construction Trades

Master’s degrees for organizational leadership skills in engineering or construction management:

  • Take 2 to 3 years to complete
  • Focus on highly specialized engineering and construction knowledge
  • Qualify you for more advanced leadership roles in engineering or construction
  • Are found with titles such as:
    • Master’s in Engineering with a concentration in Management and Leadership
    • Master of Engineering Technical Management
    • Master of Science/Arts in Organizational Leadership (MSOL/MAOL) with a concentration in Project Management
    • Master of Organizational Leadership in Construction Management
    • MS in Civil Engineering (MSE) with a concentration in Construction Management

Even though they don’t say organizational leadership in the title, most leadership degrees today rely on the science and research of OL studies in teaching proven leadership techniques.

Doctoral degrees for organizational leadership skills in civil engineering or construction management:

  • Are found as PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), EngD/DEng (Doctor of Engineering)
  • PhD programs prepare you for academic or research positions
  • EngD programs are aimed at the highest levels of professional practice
  • Are found with titles such as:
    • PhD in Engineering Management
    • DEng in Engineering Leadership

Certificate programs in engineering leadership or organizational leadership with an engineering focus are also quite common. These offer a few months of intensive study that really drills down into OL principles and techniques without a lot of the background or more general training that come with a full degree. But they are faster to complete and much less expensive. They offer a good solution for engineers with practical experience in the field who just need a touch of leadership training to boost their career prospects.

Most of the relevant organizational leadership majors you will find come with specialization options in project management or in construction management. Particularly at the master’s degree level, this can be a good option to build your leadership skills while still keeping a focus on the practical demands of the engineering field.

A Family of Engineering Leaders Created One of the Most Iconic American Constructions

brooklyn bridgeBefore the Empire State Building, before the Statue of Liberty, there was already a structure that dominated the New York City skyline: the Brooklyn Bridge.

As the first fixed span across the East River, the bridge was a big deal for New Yorkers, but it was also an engineering marvel. Designed by John Roebling, a seasoned railway surveyor and bridge builder, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened. With plenty of room for traffic across the nearly 1,600-foot span and 127 feet of clearance for shipping below, it was a solution that sustained a booming city.

But it was a solution that took great leadership to complete—and took a great toll on the Roeblings. John Roebling had his foot crushed by a ferry during construction and died of tetanus mid-project. His son, Washington, also an engineer, was named chief engineer in his place and continued the project. But Washington, too, was struck down by the bridge—he contracted caisson disease while supervising the excavation of the footings 80 feet below the river bottom.

It was left to Washington’s wife, Emily Warren Roebling, to help finish the project. Acting as the go-between for her husband and engineers on site, she developed the expertise and the deft touch needed as chief engineer to see the project through the final 11 years of construction.

Dual Degree Programs Offer the Full Load of Both Organizational Leadership and Civil Engineering Studies

engineering studiesYou can see where getting a complete engineering education with even a touch of leadership training will already leave your hands full. But with a dual-degree program, you can still earn both a degree in OL and in engineering.

You can find dual degree options at both the undergraduate and graduate degree levels. These programs require you to complete all the required coursework in both majors, so you leave nothing out. But any classes toward general education requirements only have to be taken once, saving you some time. It’s still a tough path, but it’s the only way to qualify for licensure while still getting the complete training in OL that comes with a degree.

Another option that many civil engineers take is to earn an engineering degree at the undergraduate level and then get a MAOL/MSOL at the master’s level. This both qualifies you for licensure and builds out your leadership skills at a high level. You’re giving up advanced technical training in engineering, but in many cases, you’ll have on-the-job experience by that point.

The Kind of Coursework That Builds Your Organizational Leadership Skills for Civil Engineering and Construction Careers

engineering apprenticesThe coursework that you will have to master for a degree will depend a lot on what the major is. An engineering or construction degree is going to have a lot of highly technical, very specific instruction that revolves around the science of and math of physics, materials, and building techniques. An emphasis in leadership will add in only a handful of courses in organizational leadership.

An organizational leadership degree, on the other hand, will deliver far more theoretical and practical instruction in communication, cultivating interpersonal relationships, and conducting big-picture strategic planning.

In both cases, you’ll probably find classes covering these subjects to some degree:

Leadership Theory and Process – Organizational leadership is a field that has developed from intensive studies and research into how leaders have been successful throughout history. You’ll learn some of that history in these classes, together with the lessons and techniques that have been developed with that knowledge.

Project Management and Scheduling – Every major construction effort is an exercise in project management. So coursework in scheduling and the general elements of successful project management are always a key piece of engineering leadership studies. You’ll learn the tools, techniques, and perspectives that work for getting organizational efforts done on time and on budget.

Communications – Communications is a core skill for leaders. That goes double for engineering leaders, who need these courses in technical and professional writing to help them get complex ideas and concepts across to their team.

Ethics – Civil engineering is a field that the public places immense trust in—their lives depend on decisions you will make every day. So a strong emphasis on ethical behavior and responsibility is included in every kind of civil engineering leadership degree. That means examining the philosophy behind ethics and looking at case studies so that you really absorb how to work through difficult problems and analyze situations to make the right choice every time.

Innovation and Change Management – Engineering is a conservative profession by design—tried and trusted methods are the default for very good reason. But the great breakthroughs in the field come through innovation and change. These classes teach you how to manage change at both the organizational and the professional level, introducing innovation safely but effectively with your team.

Negotiation and Conflict Management – Every team ever assembled has had disputes and difficulties getting on the same page. It can seem like construction projects take that to a whole new level, with union and non-union labor, dozens of specialists, and difficult constraints on time, money, and resources. So coursework teaching future engineering leaders how to best resolve conflicts and how to negotiate with both internal and external interests is a key piece of these degrees.

Organizational leadership majors will find themselves with additional courses in areas such as:

Degrees in civil engineering or construction will have the full roster of physics and engineering instruction required for those professions, but also additional construction management coursework like:

How To Choose the Right School for Organizational Leadership Degrees as a Civil Engineering or Construction Manager

business trainingFinding a school that offers exactly the right combination of courses in the fields you need to study is always going to be job one. The best university in the world isn’t any good to you if it doesn’t have a degree that teaches the skills you need.

But once you identify the kind of degree and concentration that will prepare you for the career you want to build in construction or civil engineering, there’s still work to be done. That’s because the opposite is also true: finding the course curriculum doesn’t help if they aren’t taught well.

So you’ll look to factors at colleges such as:

Faculty qualifications and experience

Every engineer learns sooner or later that real world projects don’t always line up with textbook theory. Getting your training from instructors who have mastered both the academic and the practical sides of engineering leadership ensures you start learning those lessons early and effectively.

Industry connections and participation

The larger engineering community has both many valuable learning opportunities and people you’ll want to meet to get your career started. A college that has strong ties in the professional and academic engineering community is a solid investment for a leadership degree. Extracurricular activities can also boost your profile and knowledge. A school that participates, for example, in the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program is an exciting pick for someone interested in big engineering work.

Academic support and advising

It can be tough to combine the right courses and plot out your education in a way that gives you both engineering and construction and organizational leadership skills. Good academic advising is pure gold when it comes to jumping through the scholastic hoops and fast-tracking your entry into the field of civil engineering and construction management. 


If your goal is to become licensed as a civil engineer, then you are already all over this one—specialty accreditation from ABET, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, is a must-have for your education to count. They evaluate bachelor and master’s level engineering and technology programs to ensure they meet the standards of the American engineering community.

Of course, many organizational leadership degrees are offered by non-engineering colleges as well. In those cases, ABET accreditation isn’t even available.

At many universities, OL falls into the business school. In those cases, you might also look to see if the program has a specialty accreditation from one of the three recognized accreditors in that space:

  • ACBSP (Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs)
  • IACBE (International Accreditation Council for Business Education)
  • AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business)

Great Organizational Leadership Training in Engineering Comes With at a Cost

using computer calculatorA valuable college education doesn’t come cheap. When you are aiming for the top of the leadership ladder in civil engineering and construction, odds are you’ll be breaking out the checkbook for not just one, but several degrees. Before you sign up, you’ll want to sit down and add up the costs.

The best resource for figuring out the cost of a college degree these days is the National Center for Education Statistics. For 2021, they came up with the following averages for tuition and fees at different types of colleges and different degree levels:

  • Undergraduate degree:
    • Public – $9,375
    • Private – $32,825
  • Graduate degree:
    • Public – $12,410
    • Private – $26,597

Of course, you can expect many of the schools that rank highly in the important factors above to be on the high side of the tuition range, as well. But it also may be well worth the price to attend one of those top schools.

Online Degree Programs in Organizational Leadership Offer Affordable Solutions for Civil Engineering and Construction Managers

using laptop at homeOne way many people are keeping the costs down these days in their college studies is by choosing online degree programs.

An online degree doesn’t usually have a lower sticker price than traditional degrees. And it shouldn’t—you want, and will get, exactly the same high quality education that you would get if you showed up in the classroom every day.

The cost savings come from the other benefits of online study:

Engineering and construction programs often have internships or other experiential learning opportunities built in. But online programs typically allow you to find local options to get even these valuable experiences.

Help Build for the Next Century as a Civil Engineering or Construction Leader

woman engineer in hard hatAll that intensive schooling is aimed at one objective: getting a lucrative job as a civil engineering leader or construction manager.

You’re going to be in good shape for achieving that goal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for civil engineers, engineering managers, and construction managers are growing as fast or slightly faster than average through 2031.

Although BLS tracks each of those positions as separate jobs, when you get into the leadership ranks, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of the same things in both roles. Engineering and construction leaders are responsible for:

This all requires a lot of interpersonal interaction with a wide range of different professions and personalities. You can spend your morning in meetings with high-ranking government officials and your afternoon in mud up to your knees with ironworkers.

Of course, your daily experiences working on a new space launch system versus upgrading a city sewer processing plant will be considerably different. But with the right training and degree behind you, you’ll be a great leader in either role!

Big Engineering Jobs Come With Big Paychecks for Strong Leaders

You’ll also make really good money! The median salaries for all these positions are well above the national average. According to BLS, for 2021 those wages worked out to:

But those are only median figures. Anyone with a basic bachelor’s degree in the field can work their way into those positions. With the additional training and preparation you’ll receive in organizational leadership, you’re far more likely to end up at the upper end of the scale. For those in the top ten percent of those jobs, the salaries can exceed:

It’s also not unusual at all for construction and engineering managers to have significant bonuses and incentives tied to their performance. Those kinds of additional incentives aren’t covered in the BLS data above, but can be big on high-stakes projects.

Another way to look at is this: organizational leadership training will help to get your projects over the finish line in time to collect performance incentives.

While the money is nice, though, having your name tied to a new building technique or innovation lasts longer. John Savage and the Roeblings are as much a part of history now as the structures they built. Their legacy shaped world history… and so can yours if you step up your leadership game.

2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Civil Engineers, Architectural and Engineering Managers, and Construction Managers reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed December 2022.