Good/bad characterBY SCOTT DRURY, PE, FBPE Chair (2022)

There are various stereotypes about engineers, such as lacking social and communication skills, being overly critical about everything, and not having creativity or flexibility when looking at everyday problems that do not require a Professional Engineer to solve.

I will admit it… people sometimes think that I fit these stereotypes. Even when I hold back on my criticism or simplify my solutions, I hear things like “You are such an engineer.” If only they knew what I was holding back or really thinking…

One of the requirements to be certified for licensure as a Professional Engineer in Florida is to be of good moral character. Although there are various definitions of what “good moral character” is, one of the simplest I found was on Wikipedia, which is summarized here:

Good moral character is an ideal state of a person’s beliefs and values that is considered most beneficial to society and can include consideration of honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, reliability, respect for the law, integrity, candor, discretion.

At some point in our professional careers, most of us will be challenged by someone who does not trust our professional opinions, who disagrees with our recommendations, or who accuses us of something that does not demonstrate good moral character… whether it is true or not. And, if any of you are like me, these types of situations cause you grief because this now threatens your professional reputation.

The real question is how do we respond to these situations? Do you become overly defensive and draw a line in the sand? Or, do you take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and figure out how to resolve the problem? We need to be able to compromise where we can, and not compromise where we cannot. We need to communicate well. And, as much as possible, we need to extend some grace in the way we do all of this.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you are, while your reputation is only what people think you are.”
– John R. Wooden

There are times when I know I am right because I have evaluated something to the nth degree and I proposed the best solution for the situation based on that evaluation. There are other times when I think I am right, but my evaluation did not consider certain points of view. In these situations, when I stop and consider these other points of view, I sometimes find some flexibility and can compromise; there are other times when I consider these other points of view and find that my recommendation is still the right one and I cannot compromise.

For an engineering matter that affects the health, safety, and welfare of the public, we need to stand firm in our beliefs and our responsibility to the public. But we need to make sure that we are willing to take criticism, listen to other points of view, and to diffuse these challenging situations as best we can.

It can be difficult, but it is possible to have integrity, candor, and grace at the same time. Doing it this way not only helps your individual circumstance, but it also benefits the welfare of others involved, and may help with the engineering stereotypes. Moreso, it demonstrates your true character.

About the Author

Scott Drury, PE, of Tallahassee, is a principal owner at H2Engineering, which he joined in 2007. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University in 2002. In addition to being a licensed Professional Engineer in both mechanical and fire protection engineering, Mr. Drury is also a commissioning authority, certified firestop inspector, and LEED accredited professional. He served on the Florida Board of Professional Engineers from 2018 through 2022, and served as its chair his final year.