Current Insights

Underappreciating and Misunderstanding the Reliability Engineer

December 4, 2023

“In our organisation, Reliability Engineers are not utilized properly. Leadership do not understand what they should be doing, and they end up doing everything across the maintenance function, except what they should be doing – thinking about reliability and preventing failure”.


This is an excerpt from the 2022 MAINSTREAM State of Asset Management Report, with detailed input from 255 participants from Australia and New Zealand representing a range of regions, industries, asset management maturity, and organisation sizes. Because the cost of failure is not great enough, business owners of most companies that participated in the survey still place greater emphasis on using systems and sweating assets rather than perfecting system reliability and eliminating asset failure at any cost. This results in a culture that has a higher risk appetite and bias to action, which is not a supportive environment for the natural reliability engineer.

Strategic vs Tactical

Research suggests that the predominant Myers Briggs personality for a reliability engineer is ISTJ. If you’re not familiar with Myers Briggs, this definition can be simplified as someone who is analytical, practical, reserved, direct, dutiful, insensitive, and not naturally drawn to people. Reliability Engineers are more process driven than results orientated. They are required to think, design and be strategic. Their skills are not utilised effectively when they are asked to be tactical. The value we get from our reliability engineers is misunderstood. During down cycles we often move reliability engineers elsewhere in the plant to do work that is not their core focus. It’s a big job to convince leadership and C-level to invest in reliability as a key focus.

Not Understood by Leadership

Generally, leadership do not understand the value of reliability engineers. In fact, because leaderships’ focus is so short term and quarterly based, when it comes to things like asset utilisation, the whole notion of understanding what a reliability engineer does is quite intangible. As a result, reliability engineers are often deployed to do other things across maintenance and operational functions. Everything but reliability engineering. The issue is that they are specialists, not generalists. They need to be given the freedom to spend time designing and thinking. Because they are not doing what they naturally should be doing, they are often disconnected and misunderstood. The opposite is also true. There were several examples of the reliability engineering role being given to an engineer with maintenance experience. Because the reliability discipline requires an analytical approach, and less to do with fixing and maintaining, you can end up with the same outcome. A misunderstood, unhappy engineer in the wrong role.

Universities Do not Teach Reliability Engineering

The problem starts early with the universities. Reliability engineering is hardly taught. And when it is, there is more emphasis on statistics than on design. Unfortunately, this creates more friction. Young and ambitious (talented, but not experienced) reliability engineers with a background in either mechanical or electrical engineering are expensive to hire. But companies want a return on their investment from expensive hires. The reliability engineers don’t really get to achieve what they want and are easily misaligned with the business. Churn and staff turnover is high.

Join our mailing list

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.