Increased Earnings by Spending Time in ASCE’s Leadership Laboratory

Increased Earnings by Spending Time in ASCE’s Leadership Laboratory

Author: Curtis Beitel PE, CFM, PMP

July 2024

ASCE’s vision statement is “Engineers as global leaders building a better quality of life.” Our society needs civil engineers to become global leaders because the world is not getting better by itself. Our infrastructure is aging, and as ASCE’s Failure to Act studies and Infrastructure Report Card show, a significant amount of funding is required to improve its condition. Securing that funding amidst a host of competing political priorities requires strong civic leadership. Many civil engineering leaders develop their skills by spending time regularly in ASCE’s leadership laboratory.

Most graduating students do not start off with strong people skills. Colleges do not teach global leadership as part of their civil engineering curriculum. An undergraduate curriculum condensed to 128 hours or less leaves no room for additional classes. Developing leadership skills takes practice, which requires a group of followers and a vision of where to go or what to accomplish.

Several young engineers have asked me why they should participate in ASCE – what’s in it for me? The benefits of professional development are difficult to isolate and quantify since many factors influence the path of a civil engineer’s career. A civil engineer’s contribution to their employer can be classified into three general categories: technical, leadership, and networking.


The technical category includes all the knowledge and skills to design the infrastructure. ASCE has cataloged this category in great detail in the Body of Knowledge, and many civil engineers act as if this is the only category.


As a civil engineer progresses in their career, they are asked to supervise junior staff and lead teams as a project manager. This requires strong people skills, and the importance of the leadership category increases with time.


Strong teams are based on relationships. Close your eyes and imagine the most significant project of your career – the one you will be telling your grandchildren about. Is that project something you can do by yourself, or your department or company can do it alone? Chances are it will be done by a multi-disciplined team of companies. Where do you think the relationships come from to form that team? That is the value of networking.

Consider the potential for a typical civil engineer’s 40-year career with and without ASCE. For the “Without ASCE”, let’s assume an average starting salary of $62,660 per year, with an average 3% cost of living raised each year for 40 years. That 3% raise could be equal parts Technical, Leadership, and Networking because skills in each category are learned on the job to some extent. For the “With ASCE” category, stronger Leadership skills could lead to 2% raises, and better Networking could lead to 2% raises, for a total of a 5% average raise each year. The graph below shows how these two hypothetical careers compare.

Starting out there is not much difference, but after 20 years the difference is about $50,000 each year for the next 20 years – so $1,000,000 is what is in it for a civil engineer if they develop stronger Leadership and Networking skills. All that is fine, but it is hypothetical – maybe it doesn’t apply to your career specifically. If only there was some real-world data to back it up. Luckily, ASCE conducts an annual salary survey, with responses from 3,128 practicing engineers reporting their salary and how many years they’ve been at it, amongst other things. The salary survey reports salary amounts for the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles. Plotting these as trendlines and adding them to the graph:

As the graph shows, a civil engineer who starts off at the average salary and receives 3% cost of living raises will continue to be around the average salary throughout their career. The 2022 salary survey also reported that some civil engineers did not receive a raise at all – so the 3% cost of living raise is not guaranteed – it still represents the fruit of working hard and meeting your goals every year. Achieving the additional 2% raises by strengthening Leadership and Networking skills is what gets civil engineers up into the higher percentiles of the salary survey.

Sharpening your leadership skills is like learning to ride a bike – you can read numerous books on the subject, but it can only be learned by doing it. ASCE provides a safe “Leadership Laboratory” to work with a diverse group of civil engineers to accomplish a task and hone your leadership skills.

There are countless rooms in ASCE’s Leadership Laboratory. In Texas, ASCE has 23 Student Chapters, most of which have robust Concrete Canoe and Steel Bridge competition teams. As thousands of students graduate and relocate to start their first jobs, they need to find the closest Branch and start getting connected. The Texas Section has 15 Branches that are designed to provide leadership development and networking opportunities on a local level, including monthly meetings, committees, and an officer rotation. The Younger Member Groups in our larger Branches often hold social events to help new recent graduates get to know their peers.

At the Texas Section level, members quickly discover that not all parts of Texas are the same. Texas is a wonderfully diverse state with all of the major ecosystem types, and our people are as diverse as our flora and fauna. Serving at the Section level offers additional leadership opportunities to work with engineers who have different perspectives and across significant distances. Each Branch has a Section Director who represents that Branch on the Section Board of Direction, and they can help Branch members volunteer for various positions and committees in the Section.

At the global level, ASCE offers more than 6,000 committee positions. Skills honed at the Section level help our members serve effectively at the global level. Members serving at the global level also learn quickly that not all states think like Texas. Leadership requires strong abilities to understand and motivate others. Texas is in Region 6, which has 7 Regional Governors who help Section members volunteer for various global positions and committees.

In addition to the operations side of the Leadership Laboratory, ASCE also has 9 Institutes at the global level, some of which have Texas Chapters and Branch Chapters. Some of our Student Chapters also have Institute Chapters. Full membership in ASCE requires a professional engineer’s license, and many professionals in our industry will never become licensed. Each Institute is designed to meet the technical needs of all the professionals associated with an industry, and your ASCE membership includes one free membership to an Institute of your choice. Participation in the Institutes offers additional opportunities to lead professionals outside of ASCE.

In the space I have left, I would like to address a common misconception that many in our younger generations have concerning professional networks. Young engineers tend to think they have a professional network because they have a lot of friends on Facebook or LinkedIn, only a tiny fraction of whom they interact with every week. Before social media existed, civil engineers developed professional networks by attending ASCE conferences like the Texas Good Roads meeting where the Texas Section ASCE was founded.

Social media relationships are shallow. Shared experience is what deepens relationships. To demonstrate that – think of your deepest relationships that are not family – chances are you grew up or went to high school together, went to college together, or worked together starting out. Those relationships are deep because of a lot of shared experiences.

Consider a typical missionary trip overseas. At face value, the purpose appears to be going over there, feeding and clothing some needy children, singing songs to them, or making improvements in their village such as building a new water well. However the returning team members talk about personal and spiritual growth, and they have a deeper relationship with the others on their team. Living in a hut with someone for a couple of weeks will do that. In fact, the other two purposes are there every time, and that is by design. Likewise, service in ASCE’s Leadership Laboratory produces shared experiences that deepen your professional network way beyond Facebook or LinkedIn.

I truly enjoy coming to ASCE events, to be around and serve with my friends. ASCE has enriched my life, and it can enrich yours. In addition to our local Branch monthly meetings, your next statewide opportunity to share experiences is CECON 2024 coming up in September in Frisco. I hope to see you often in ASCE’s Leadership Laboratory.

Curtis Beitel PE, CFM, PMP is currently the Client Manager at Walker Partners. Curtis has over 30 years of experience designing flood mitigation improvements, conducting floodplain studies and coordinating permitting, NPDES stormwater programs and drainage and stream corridor master plans. In addition to planning and designing flood risk reduction projects throughout Texas, he has successfully managed several large cutting edge projects, such as the Bexar County Flood Warning System and the City of Fort Worth’s Stormwater GIS Inventory. For 8 years he served as the assistant project manager for the CF3R Joint Venture with Michael Baker, assisting FEMA Region VI with countywide DFIRM updates as part of their Map Modernization initiative. He currently serves as as one of 8 members of the TWDB’s Flood Technical Advisory Group