The term “Piping Engineering Lead” (PEL) as used in this document refers to the person responsible for all piping Engineering and Design activities on a process plant project.  The actual PEL responsibilities will vary depending on the engineering company, the client, the type of project, and the project execution philosophy and the construction philosophy.  There may be some companies (US or world wide) who have the piping function integrated with some other engineering group or function.  There may also be companies where Piping is structured in some other fashion.  The specific structure is not as important as the overall function.

What does a Piping Engineering Lead need to know?

  • To fulfill all the aspects of this functional definition and depending on the Company (where employed) the PEL will be functionally responsible and will be involved in all of the following activities:
  • Participate as a part of the proposal team in pre-bid meetings with the Client and proposal development
  • Defining the physical scope of the Piping effort for the project
  • Defining the Piping execution method and the required Piping deliverables
  • Preparing a labor hour estimate for the Piping effort
  • Preparing a material cost estimate for all Piping items
  • Preparing a detailed Piping discipline work execution schedule that is coordinated and compatible with the other engineering disciplines
  • Proper planning of all aspects of Piping activities
  • Proper organization of (electronic and hard copy) data files or data needs
  • Proper resource (people) requisitioning and utilization
  • Prompt recognition and notification of all scope changes or trends that may cause a cost impact to the project
  • Proper awareness of labor budget expenditure, production, and productivity
  • Prompt and accurate status reporting
  • Timely and proper project completion and close-out


What does the PEL need to know and do? Here is a more definitive description of the most basic of things that a good PEL should know. Thinking about and doing every one of these items should become as natural as breathing for a good Piping Lead.

Role and Responsibilities – First of all the PEL needs to know, understand and accept the role and responsibilities of the position.  The position is the top position in the Piping Discipline (on a specific project).  There are normally seven other disciplines on a major process plant project each headed up by a senior person functioning as the Discipline Lead.  These eight Discipline Leads report to the Engineering Manager on the Project and their Department Manager for their specific discipline. A PEL is a technical expert/resource supervisor/production manager.  He or she is responsible for the overall plant and equipment arrangement; Responsible for the technical definition of all the process and utility system piping on the project; Responsible for the supervision of a large group of people; Responsible for the deliverables from their effort; Responsible for the quality of that effort and will manage the budget and schedule aspects of the assigned segment of the project.

Diplomacy – The position of PEL will have direct contact with all the Engineering groups, many other Company non-engineering departments, the Client, Vendors, Contractors, Regulatory Agencies, Licensors and others who have an interest in or contribution to the project.  The PEL needs be able to understand the roles of each of these groups and be able to discuss mutual needs and contributions.  This becomes especially important in dealings with the Client.  Some Clients don’t know what they don’t know.  They will try to ‘push’ you to do something you know is wrong. You have to stand your ground and make them trust you.

Coordination – All Discipline Leads including the PEL need to know and understand the relationship, activities and contribution of all the other engineering and design groups on the project.  These include: Process, Civil, Structural, Mechanical Equipment, Vessels & Tanks, Electrical and Instruments/Control Systems.  These groups have a responsibility for contributing to Piping’s success just as Piping has a responsibility for contributing to their success.  All of you are there for one reason, to act as a team responsible for producing a successful project.

Coaching – During the course of any project (large or small) there are times or situations where problems arise.  At times like this the PEL needs to be able to get the people assigned to the project to focus on the objective and find solutions to problems.  

Organization – Regardless of the size or complexity of the project the PEL needs to be able to organize every aspect of the Piping part of the project.  This includes Communications (incoming and out going), Files (for drawings and data), Space (for all the piping sub-groups), Computers (types, systems & numbers), Staff (piping groups, numbers, when needed and duration).

Cheerleader – Motivate all members of the piping groups from the first day to the last day on the project, to do the very best they can on the project, because it is the ‘most important project’ at that time. 

General – This means to take charge.  Get out front of the project and be a Leader, a ‘General’.  However, don’t give “Orders”, provide direction.  Make sure your sub-group leads (Piping Design, Piping Material Engineering, Pipe Stress, Piping Material Control and others as may apply); have all the information in a timely manner; know and understand their objective; know the Scope; the Labor Hour Estimate; the Schedule and other applicable issues.  Most of all make sure they know the chain of command and they have your full support and trust.

Planner/ Visionary – Knowing how to develop a project Scope of Work (SOW) is the first and most important responsibilities of the PEL.  The SOW is a carefully defined ‘Target’.  If you do not have a target you will never tell if you make a bulls-eye or you missed completely.  Developing a SOW requires the ability to see what the project looks like from start to finish and that requires the ability to see into the future. The SOW requires the review, acceptance and Approval of (a) the Piping Department Manager, (b) the Project Manager and (c) the Client Project Manager.  Without a signed approval from these three persons the PEL cannot proceed.

Estimator – The PEL in conjunction with the Supervisors of the four piping sub-groups need to be able to develop a definitive labor hour Estimate for all the activities, deliverables and services required for the Project as defined in the SOW.  The prerequisite for developing a Labor Hour Estimate is a well defined SOW approved by the Project and Client.

Scheduler – The PEL in conjunction with the Supervisors of the four piping sub-groups also need to be able to develop a definitive Control Level Schedule for all the activities, deliverables and services required for the Project as defined in the SOW.

Teacher/Trainer – Every PEL needs to understand the realities of life.  In order to grow and move up you will need a replacement.  You could also be to subject to sickness or accident.  The work on the project must go on and cannot suffer because you are no longer available.  So from day one the PEL needs to be sharing what is going on and preparing for the possibility of his/her absence.  This is also the perfect method to prepare some deserving individual for promotion to the position of PEL on some future project.

Reporting (Progress, Productivity, Performance) – Along with the technical and supervision duties there are the ‘Administrative’ duties.   This includes preparing and making reports.  Reports are required by the head of the Piping Department and by the Engineering Manager of the Project.   Project Progress and Productivity reports are normally required weekly (minimal detail), monthly (more detail) and a final more comprehensive report at job end.  Performance reports on all personnel assigned to the project are due when they are released from the project.

Change Control – With the signed approval of the SOW, the Labor Estimate and the Schedule for the Piping work (and AFC of the P&IDs) the PEL has a ‘bench mark’ for controlling the Piping part of the Project. The PEL needs to be on the look-out for Change Orders (normally by the Client) and Trends (deviations to the SOW) that cause a change, up or down, in the number of hours, changes to the timing of schedule commitments or costs to the project in the form of labor, materials or services.  Every change (real or imagined) needs to be documented in a formal detailed manner and submitted through the Project chain of command for processing and approval.   

Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) - Quality Assurance is process oriented and focuses on defect prevention. QA includes the methods, procedures and practices that are established with the intent of preventing errors.  Quality control is product oriented and focuses on defect identification.  QC includes Checking and correcting all errors found.  QC sometimes includes a second check (or back check) to insure the product or deliverable is in fact correct.  In the Engineering and Design environment it is important to check what version (or Revision) of a source document was applicable when the 3D model, drawing, or isometric was created versus what version of the source document is applicable during the Check.  It is also important to look for; trends in the type of error, determine the cause and take immediate action to correct the process to prevent the same mistakes in the future.   


Key success indicators

The following points are important issues marking the potential for success or failure of a PEL.

  • Training - supervision skills
  • Experience – on projects of all types and size
  • Knowledge – of all the piping sub-groups work, what they do and why they do it
  • Intelligence – to listen, adsorb what you see and hear
  • Wisdom – to understand what you saw and heard and know what to do in the situation
  • Patience – with people and situations that are not going exactly the way you want or at the speed you want
  • Empathy – the understanding of and care for all the people assigned to the project when they have problems
  • Interpersonal Relations – successful association between two or more people in a regular business interactions
  • Management  Skills – the ability to Plan, Organize, Staff, Direct and Control (POSDC) your assignment
  • EEOC (US) – awareness of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin and religion.
  • Safety oriented - lead the safety effort in a sustained and consistent way, establishing safety goals, demanding accountability for safety performance, and providing the resources necessary for a safe workplace.


Any person that has this type of training, this type of knowledge, this type of experience and then consistently applies it is indeed a Piping Engineering Lead. He or she will also be a more valuable asset to their company and to themselves in the market place. On the other hand anyone who does not know or does not apply the knowledge about these issues will not be or should not be assigned as a Piping Engineering Lead.

Because of long standing industry tradition, and the nature of the overall process plant design process, piping is a prime interface point for all other task force groups on the project.  Piping is also a key factor in the proper and timely execution of many other task force work activities.  The PEL needs to fully understand Piping's role in the overall production line of the project.  Piping is not now and never will be the only group involved.  Piping is not the first group involved.  Piping is not the last group involved.  Piping is surely not the most important group involved in the project. 


Blog 1C: Thoughts on Job Descriptions

About the Author


{cb:James O. Pennock has more than forty-five years in the process plant design profession. He has been involved in both home office and job site assignments on refinery, chemical, petrochemical, power and other projects. His experience ranges from entry level designer to engineering manager. Much of this was with Fluor. He is also the author of the book "Piping Engineering Leadership for Process Plant Projects." He is now retired, living in Florida, USA and does only occasional consulting work.

Mr. Pennock can be contacted via E-Mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..}

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