What do Engineering and Natural Sciences Managers Do

Engineering and Natural Sciences Managers

Engineering and natural sciences managers plan, coordinate, and direct research, design, and production activities. They may supervise engineers, scientists, and technicians, along with support personnel. These managers use their knowledge of engineering and natural sciences to oversee a variety of activities. They determine scientific and technical goals. These goals may include improving manufacturing processes, advancing scientific research, or developing new products. Managers make detailed plans to accomplish these goals. For example, they may develop the overall concepts of a new product or identify technical problems preventing the completion of a project.

To perform effectively, these managers also must apply knowledge of administrative procedures, such as budgeting, hiring, and supervision. They propose budgets for projects and programs and determine staff, training, and equipment needs. They hire and assign scientists, engineers, and support personnel to carry out specific parts of each project. They also supervise the work of these employees, check the technical accuracy of their work and the soundness of their methods, review their output, and establish administrative procedures, policies or standards—such as environmental standards, for example.

In addition, engineering and natural science managers use communication skills extensively. They spend a great deal of time coordinating the activities of their unit with those of other units or organizations. They confer with higher levels of management; with financial, production, marketing, and other managers; and with contractors and equipment and materials suppliers.

Engineering managers may supervise people who design and develop machinery, products, systems, and processes. They might also direct and coordinate production, operations, quality assurance, testing, or maintenance in industrial plants. Many manage research and development teams that produce new products and processes or improve existing ones. Others are plant engineers, who direct and coordinate the design, installation, operation, and maintenance of equipment and machinery in industrial plants.

Natural sciences managers oversee the work of life and physical scientists, including agricultural scientists, chemists, biologists, geologists, medical scientists, and physicists. These managers direct research and development projects and coordinate activities such as testing, quality control, and production. They may work on basic research projects or on commercial activities. Science managers sometimes conduct their own research in addition to managing the work of others.

Work Environment

Natural sciences managers held about 79,000 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of natural sciences managers were as follows:

  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences - 34%
  • Manufacturing - 16%
  • Federal government, excluding postal service - 14%
  • State government, excluding education and hospitals - 5%
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services - 4%

Most of the time, they work in offices, but they also may spend time in laboratories. Like managers in other fields, natural sciences managers may spend a large portion of their time using computers and talking to other members of their organization.

Natural sciences managers have different requirements based on the size of their staff. Managers with larger staffs spend their time primarily in offices performing administrative duties and spend little time doing research or working in the field or in laboratories. Working managers who have research responsibilities and smaller staffs may need to work in laboratories or in the field, which may require traveling, sometimes to remote locations.

Work Schedules

Most natural sciences managers work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week.

Education & Training Required

Engineering and natural sciences managers usually advance to management positions after years of employment as engineers or scientists. Nearly all engineering managers therefore have at least a bachelor’s degree in some specialty of engineering. Many also gain business management skills by completing a master's degree in engineering management (MEM) or business administration (MBA), either before or after advancing to management positions. Employers often pay for such training. In large firms, some courses required in these degree programs may be offered onsite. Typically, engineers who prefer to manage in technical areas pursue an MEM, and those interested in less technical management earn an MBA.

Similarly, since most science managers begin their careers as scientists, they may have a bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D. degree in a scientific discipline. Graduate programs allow scientists to augment their undergraduate training with instruction in other fields, such as management or computer technology. Future natural science managers interested in more technical management may earn traditional master's or Ph.D. degrees in natural sciences or master's degrees in science that incorporate business management skills. Those interested in more general management may pursue an MBA. Given the rapid pace of scientific developments, science managers must continuously upgrade their knowledge.

Other Skills Required

Engineering and natural sciences managers must be specialists in the work they supervise. To advance to these positions, engineers and scientists generally must gain experience and assume management responsibility. To fill management positions, employers seek engineers and scientists who possess administrative and communication skills in addition to technical knowledge in their specialty, since they must effectively lead groups and coordinate projects.

How to Advance

Engineering and natural sciences managers may advance to progressively higher leadership positions within their disciplines. Some may become managers in nontechnical areas such as marketing, human resources, or sales. In high-technology firms, managers in nontechnical areas often must possess the same specialized knowledge as do managers in technical areas. For example, employers in an engineering firm may prefer to hire experienced engineers as sales workers because the complex services offered by the firm can be marketed only by someone with specialized engineering knowledge. Such sales workers can eventually advance to jobs as sales managers.

Job Outlook

Employment of natural sciences managers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 6,000 openings for natural sciences managers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


Employment growth should be affected by many of the same factors that affect employment growth for the scientists whom these managers supervise. Job growth for managers is projected to increase at roughly the same rate as those for life scientists and physical scientists, but managers tend to be flexible in the number of workers they are able to manage. In addition, research and development activities are increasingly being outsourced to specialized scientific research services firms. This outsourcing will lead to some consolidation of management.


The median annual wage for natural sciences managers was $137,900 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $75,040, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for natural sciences managers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences - $170,770
  • Manufacturing - $161,630
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services - $151,870
  • Federal government, excluding postal service - $124,430
  • State government, excluding education and hospitals - $86,320

Most natural sciences managers work full time. Some work more than 40 hours per week.