What is expected from staff engineers

It’s relatively easy to explain expectations for junior, mid, and even senior engineers. But it starts to get much harder at staff+ positions. Career progression broadens the scope of work and responsibilities. The environment and problems get more ambiguous. It’s demanding to define a clear and measurable expectations, because staff roles also differ between companies and their actual needs. They can also vary between different staff engineer archetypes.

In the article, we will focus mostly on the Tech Lead archetype, which is the most popular in the industry. We will present some expectations for staff engineers based on our experience. The list is incomplete and there are many very important skills and traits a strong staff engineer should have. We wanted to describe those that are fundamental regardless of the specific situation.

So what are those expectations?

Get things done

This might as well be applied to the earlier positions, however, it assumes an even greater significance for staff engineers. Staff engineers shoulder the responsibility of accomplishing their tasks proficiently while also facilitating the success of their peers. They must skillfully aid other engineers and teams in managing and prioritizing intricate projects, serving as the crucial “glue” that cements the smooth functioning and timely delivery of engineering projects. Moreover, they should attentively identify and eliminate any hindrances that impede the development experience while simultaneously enhancing productivity.

Some of the examples of getting stuff done:

  • Help the team with their project management and prioritization.
  • Identify hidden risks and dependencies, which could disturb project delivery.
  • Advocate with leadership and find the necessary resource to finish a project.
  • Find a way to overcome complex challenges.

Be a role model and mentor others

At some point in a career, you usually start to have a bigger impact through others, rather than by your individual contributions. This happens not only on the management track but also for technical leaders. Some foretaste comes even for senior engineers, but you get a full experience of it in staff+ positions.

Less experienced engineer start to look up to staff engineers and even try to mimic their behavior. Staff engineers become role models for others. That’s why it’s important to demonstrate the company’s values and culture through actions. They get the leverage to align people and multiply the outcome.

Staff engineers also get an opportunity (and obligation) to mentor other people. We consider it a great privilege, to be able to pass your experiences and knowledge to other people. Helping people grow and succeed is essential. Not only are you actively using your time for others, but also you’re increasing the area of impact. In addition to guiding and supporting their mentees, mentors can also enhance their own skills and knowledge. When tasked with explaining and teaching complex concepts to others, mentors are compelled to develop a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter, thereby expanding their own expertise. Furthermore, mentorship provides a valuable opportunity to gain insights into personal communication styles, effective goal-setting strategies, and other valuable areas of personal and professional growth.

Examples, of how to influence others:

  • Participate in or start a mentoring program at your company.
  • Actively demonstrate company values and culture through your actions.
  • Review code, documents, proposals, etc.
  • Give feedback!

Overcommunicate and bring clarity

Miscommunication is often a source of most problems at work (and in life). Misunderstanding can result in poor performance, subpar quality, stressed people, or wasted time. The role of staff engineers is to bring clarity and alignment.

There are several things staff engineers should do to improve communication in their teams and company:

  • Listen carefully to others and understand their problems and point of view.
  • Identify and challenge the X/Y problem.
  • Make sure the team reaches a collective understanding.
  • Start with why and explain why we work on certain things.
  • Lead by example and improve their communication skills. Show more junior engineers this is often a key to success.

Bring calmness

There are going to be some stressful situations at work. It can be either a tight deadline or an application incident. Staff engineers should show their experience and stay calm during the crisis. They should take the lead, communicate clearly and help with prioritization. Ultimately, their role is to facilitate the success of their team members and optimize their collective performance.

Proactively preparing for potential failure scenarios is another effective strategy for bringing calmness to the organization. Staff engineers can begin by conducting a thorough assessment of possible risks even before the project’s commencement. During the ideation and implementation phases, they should systematically review potential risks, evaluate the efficacy of existing mitigation plans, and make necessary adjustments. By anticipating and preventing crises before they occur, staff engineers can minimize their impact and effectively steer their team toward success.

So what to do to bring calmness to the team?

  • Perform a comprehensive risk assessment, conduct pre-mortems, and anticipate potential failure scenarios before they arise.
  • In critical situations take the lead and help the team solve the problem.
  • And again, overcommunicate and bring clarity.

Build trust and relationships

Last but not least, staff engineers are expected to build and cherish relationships at work. This entails fostering connections not only within their immediate team but also with various stakeholders and colleagues throughout the organization. By actively listening and comprehending the needs of individuals and teams, staff engineers can gain valuable insights, identify potential problems, and empower others toward success.

Moreover, it’s expected that staff engineers will build credibility and visibility. It’s essential for others to trust in their ability to perform well. Leadership positions usually bring more “freedom” on what to work, often behind scenes, so it’s crucial to keep stakeholders up to date on what’s going on. Also, when people trust you, they’re going to be more open and you’re going to gain more from the relationship.

Some ideas on how to build trust and relationships:

  • Have regular 1:1s with your team members and other people in the organization.
  • Approach with empathy, listen carefully, and try to understand different points of view.
  • Build your credibility and visibility in the organization, so people know they can rely on you.
  • Assume accountability for your actions and communice with clarity regarding planned actions and potential issues.


To recap, we went through 5 expectations towards staff engineers:

  • Get things done.
  • Be a role model and mentor others.
  • Overcommunicate and bring clarity.
  • Bring calmness.
  • Build trust and relationships. The list is non-exhaustive but contains skills and traits we consider important for staff engineers. We have also mentioned some ideas, on how you could exhibit them at your workplace.

Those expectations can be also useful for engineers looking forward to the promotion to the staff engineer level. We are confident that to land this big promotion, you need to show evidences of performing on a staff level and therefore meeting these expectations.