Whether a company makes gadgets, makeup or food, an R&D manager leads the product development process and engineering team so that products will meet customers' needs and standards for safety and quality.
This scientific role requires that you gain an education relevant to the product's industry, whether that means studying chemistry, materials engineering, electronics or food science. It also demands extensive work experience in product development and management, so you'll typically first work in related roles such as product engineer or researcher before the company promotes you.
An R&D manager oversees a team that develops products from the conceptual to launch stages and coordinates with departments such as operations and marketing to ensure a product's success.
This role involves researching and determining specifications for products including the right materials, measurements and structures as well as writing technical reports, assisting with product testing, hiring R&D team members and keeping the organization informed throughout the development process.
R&D managers also often spend time working with lab testing equipment, using analytical computer software, preparing budgets and managing quality control processes.
Becoming an R&D manager can require extensive education, managerial skills and industry experience. The typical R&D manager degree is a bachelor's degree in a technological or scientific field, and some employers require a master's or doctoral degree as well. For example, an R&D manager working for an electronics company might have a degree in electrical engineering or computer science, while one working for a cleaning products company could have a chemistry degree.
R&D managers usually work in roles such as R&D engineer, R&D researcher or product developer where they help design new products in their industry of interest. Over time, they may take on a leadership role overseeing other engineers and researchers. Depending on the company, promotion to R&D manager can require five or more years of both managerial and industry experience.
R&D managers often work for firms that manufacture items such as food, medical appliances, beauty products, cleaning chemicals and general electronics. The role requires a high level of responsibility that can come with long hours and stress to meet deadlines and make challenging decisions about a product's design and safety.
In large companies, R&D managers may need to travel to international divisions of their companies and spend significant time away from home. While most R&D managers work in a comfortable office environment, they should also prepare to spend time in the plant when needed.
Years of Experience and Salary
PayScale reported that the median R&D manager salary in August 2019 was $96,644; this indicates lower earnings for half of the R&D managers and higher earnings for half. The bottom 10 percent of R&D managers earned below $54,000, while the top-paid 10 percent made over $140,000. Major cities such as San Diego, Boston and Los Angeles offered higher salaries than the national average for this position.
R&D managers earn more money with experience and through promotion to positions such as R&D director and senior R&D manager. This average salary data from PayScale can give you an idea of how the average R&D manager salary changes based on experience level:
- Under one year: $63,492
- One to four years: $72,721
- Five to nine years: $92,172
- 10 to 19 years: $108,383
- 20 or more years: $115,345
Job Growth Trend
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects about average growth for research and development manager jobs as well as for other general and operations manager positions. Between 2016 and 2026, it projects a 9-percent job growth rate for the occupation group but also notes that the industry in which you work can have an impact on job prospects.
You can expect to compete with many applicants for R&D manager positions. In addition to having experience in the industry and in management, you can earn a master's or doctoral degree to get an advantage over your competition.