A technician I worked with once told me that the best engineer he ever worked with was not necessarily the smartest guy in the world, but what he did know was how to get a hold of people who COULD solve a problem. This really is true for many things, not just engineering.
Management, for example… I recently was asked to help “fix’ an excel document. It had a host of command buttons, none of which worked, because the embedded macros had all been stripped off by someone’s e-mail application. Now, I’m not really a VBA expert, by any means, but I can hold my own, if I have google to guide me a bit. It took about 5 minutes to look through the document to figure out what they were trying to do, and build some simple functions to show and hide the appropriate things. (I was lucky – whoever built the file in the first place did a great job of the overall structure!)…
Anyway, my buddy was the hero of his class – he knew how to get the problem solved. He didn’t necessarily know HOW to fix it, but he knew how to use his resources. This is a critical skill – and extends way beyond engineers! In his case, having the connections to get things done make him a great candidate for a number of jobs. In that 5 minute timespan, we solved a problem that had been plaguing the state for at least 28 WEEKS.
I’ve talked about my previous manager – the guy who hadn’t led engineers before – he was excellent at having resources for everything… his network within the company (And outside the company) was huge – he could get anything done with a simple phone call. This was a huge benefit when we wanted to build a new test facility. Construction went very well (it’s been 7 or 8 years, so I’ve forgotten some of the issues we ran into), and many of the issues we resolved throughout the project were handled easily because he knew who to call, and get things resolved. He knew EVERYONE.
Some of these examples just illustrate the fact that the problem solver is the guy who knows how to apply the tools he has at his disposal. He may not have the wrench, but he knows a guy who does. This beats the heck out of trying to use a screwdriver as a wrench. This guy is the best guy to work on the engine – if he doesn’t know how to do something, he’s the most likely to call in the experts so it gets done RIGHT, and he may learn something along the way, so he can do it himself the next time.