A woman in a white dress smiles and looks off-camera with a woodland setting behind her. She is Natalie Jay, an engineering manager at Liberty IT.
Image: Natalie Jay

How this engineering manager effectively leads her team

18 May 2023

Liberty IT’s Natalie Jay speaks to SiliconRepublic.com about her role as an engineering manager and what you need to be an effective leader.

Natalie Jay is an engineering manager in the Incubator innovation hub’s advanced analytics data science team at Liberty IT. As part of the Incubator team, Jay works to cultivate emerging business and technology opportunities that add value for the parent company, Liberty Mutual Insurance.

‘As a leader, you must be more actively inclusive of individuals’ career opportunities and related growth in both their technical and behavioural skills’

If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?

A typical day will involve multiple aspects of managing both people and projects. Making sure my team is happy and empowered with what they need to do their work and can deliver quality on time that successfully meets and aims to exceed our customers’ expectations.

My day is a balance of focusing my efforts on where they are most needed. It starts with daily operational tasks such as meeting with my teams for standups, ensuring I know what each person is working on and that they can focus and flow without any blockers. Feedback from these work stream meetings informs what I may need to tackle during the day, including leadership and stakeholder engagements.

I have regular one-to-one time with each team member regarding their wellbeing and career growth.

Daily is offset by the longer-term considerations, such as consistent stakeholder meetings, project/roadmap planning and project status updates. I need to remain aware of and plan for future team and business needs, ensuring that I have the right resources available for future projects, meeting with stakeholders to assess viability and value of proposed projects, and determine if my team is working on the right things to support the company’s growth.

I also make time for white space and allow for thinking time and focusing. I enjoy that my days are varied, sometimes unexpected, which makes it challenging, and I get to engage with a diverse group of interesting people.

What types of projects do you work on?

My current team is data-science focused, working across a variety of business initiatives and our projects reflect that. This team is quite different to most development, test and production-focused engineering teams and it is our job to determine questions we as a business should be asking and figure out how to answer those questions using data. We do this by analysing data to uncover insights, using predictive data models to forecast outcomes, natural language processing, computer vision and machine learning.

What skills do you use on a daily basis?

Because my role covers a variety of aspects, I use a range of skills daily. You need to be a good communicator, have excellent interpersonal skills and be able to work collaboratively.

To be an effective manager, I believe you need to be motivating and have people development and coaching skills. Alongside that, planning skills are key – for project planning, succession planning, resource allocation and operational prioritisation.

You also need to be a strategic thinker and a good problem-solver.

Simply put – everything to do with supporting people and projects efficiently and effectively, and consistently improving towards excellence.

What is the hardest part of your working day?

Ensuring that I am prepared for a variety of diverse engagements throughout the day – who am I meeting with, what do I need to know to ensure the discussions are productive and do I have clear objectives etc. These engagements range from personal one-to-one career growth conversations to leadership strategic discussions, multiple stakeholder engagements, roadmap planning, project standups and everything in between.

Do you have any productivity tips that will help you through the working day?

I try to stay organised starting with my morning. Checking my emails and calendar, so I know what meetings I need to prepare for and who I may need to follow up with, and I endeavour to act/ follow up as quickly as possible to keep my to-do list manageable.

When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?

The ability to adapt and be prepared to challenge yourself to continuously learn and grow. Leadership is evolving and you need to continually evolve as part of this.

You must lead by example by learning and growing, and demonstrating the values you want to promote in your team, on a consistent basis. It is a people-first focus.

How has this role changed as this sector has grown and evolved?

I feel the shift in our sector is from a focus on technical skill, project delivery and budget, to recognising that people are key.

As a leader, you must be more actively inclusive of individuals’ career opportunities and related growth in both their technical and behavioural skills. It is important to provide focused development and give direction to the team. Creating the right environment, with the right people that have the right skills, working on the right projects.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

Joining the dots! How the daily work of an individual make a difference to the success of a global company and how best to allow them personally to understand and feel their value when they are one of thousands. Happy, supported, stimulated and challenged people bring their best selves to the work environment to produce excellence for the benefit of the company.

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