How engineers can get their projects approved

Let’s be frank, communication is a common problem in engineering. Engineers often encounter difficulty in selling their solutions to those with the power and money to make them happen. Were it otherwise we would not have had a number of presentations at the Australian Engineering Conference lamenting the sporadic (rather than integrated) approach to infrastructure projects in this country.

What is needed is to apply some basic principles of advocacy and persuasion:

Step 1: Get their attention

Step 2: Make them want it

Step 3: Help them justify it

Too often the first two steps are skipped to focus on the details. However, the following engineers knew the value of entertaining their audience and speaking to their self-interest. As a result they were successful in getting the political and financial capital they needed for their projects.

Examples of engineers who successfully had their projects approved

(1) Elon Musk built attractive demo models of his Tesla cars for the venture capitalists to test drive; he throws exclusive parties for the media at the Tesla factory to announce new features; and he uses the Tesla mission and aesthetic to win the will of the public.

(2) General Sir John Monash would invite superiors, politicians and royalty to inspect his troops. When they came he put on spectacular demonstrations that entertained them and played to their egos. He would also attend dinners and parties and charm the friends and peers of those whose approval he required to advance his plans.

(3) Nikola Tesla expressly set out to demonstrate his discoveries and inventions in a visually entertaining way. As he stated in his lecture delivered before the IEE in London in 1892 “It has been my chief desire this evening to entertain you with some novel experiments.” This approach earned him media attention and numerous invitations to present his work.

While it is natural for engineers to focus on the elegance and technical superiority of their projects, the above engineers knew to remember their audience. Big projects require the backing of political and financial capital, both of which are often held by those with non-technical backgrounds.

Such an audience has political or financial capital because they have focused on the pursuit of these things. So grab their attention by portraying your ideas in a visually entertaining way and show them how your project will help them further (or avoid harm to) their interests. Visually entertaining demonstrations will also help gain media attention which will amplify the reach of your message and gain the interest of the public.

This leads on to the final point – gaining political and financial capital is greatly assisted by having the support of the public. I can say from experience that politicians are far quicker motivated to action by a critical media, than by the receipt of detailed submissions or proposals. Your careful work will be of little priority, and easily abandoned by politicians, without the support of the public and the media. So feed the media and sell your projects on how they will relieve the frustrations of every-day people.

AustraLaw believes strongly in the importance of engineering projects. The work of engineers provides the physical and electronic infrastructure to drive the economy and improve the lives of everyday people.

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