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Principal Engineer vs. Senior Engineer: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

A career in engineering can be both challenging and rewarding. If you’re interested in this field, you may be wondering what the difference is between a principal engineer and a senior engineer. In this article, we’ll discuss the duties of each position, the necessary qualifications and the average salary you can expect to earn in each role. We’ll also provide some helpful tips for those interested in pursuing a career in engineering.

What is a Principal Engineer?

Principal Engineers are the highest-ranking engineering position in a company. They’re responsible for overseeing all engineering projects, managing a team of engineers and ensuring that projects are completed on time, within budget and to the required specifications. Principal Engineers liaise with other departments, such as sales, marketing and production, to ensure that everyone is aware of the engineering team’s progress and that projects are running smoothly. They also provide mentorship and guidance to junior engineers to help them develop their skills and knowledge.

What is a Senior Engineer?

Senior Engineers are responsible for leading and mentoring a team of engineers to complete projects within budget and on schedule. They oversee the entire engineering process from conception to delivery, ensuring that all safety and quality standards are met. They collaborate with other departments, such as sales, marketing and manufacturing, to ensure that the engineering team’s goals are aligned with the company’s overall objectives. Senior Engineers typically have several years of experience in the field and may hold a professional engineering license.

Principal Engineer vs. Senior Engineer

Here are the main differences between a principal engineer and a senior engineer.

Job Duties

Senior engineers often have more responsibility than principal engineers. This is because they usually work on larger projects and are in charge of the entire engineering team. They may also be responsible for making sure that the project meets deadlines and satisfies customer requirements.

Principal engineers typically have less responsibility because they work on smaller projects and teams. Their job duties may include working on a specific aspect of a project, such as designing a component or system, and providing input on other engineers’ work.

Job Requirements

Principal engineers typically need to have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, although some may have a master’s degree as well. They also must be licensed by the state they plan to practice in and pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. To become a senior engineer, you must first meet the requirements for becoming a principal engineer. In addition, senior engineers must have at least four years of experience working in their field. Some states also require senior engineers to take an additional exam, such as the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam.

Work Environment

Both principal and senior engineers work in a variety of environments. They may spend time working on projects at construction sites, where they oversee the installation of equipment or systems. Senior engineers often have more experience than principals and can provide guidance to their teams when needed. Principals typically manage smaller teams and are responsible for ensuring that all tasks are completed efficiently.

Senior engineers usually work full-time hours during regular business hours. Principals may also work full-time hours but may need to adjust their schedules depending on the needs of their team. For example, if a project is nearing completion, a principal engineer may need to work overtime with their team to ensure it’s finished on time.


Both senior engineers and principal engineers need to have excellent problem-solving skills. They often are tasked with identifying issues within their department or company and developing solutions that improve efficiency or productivity.

Both types of engineers also need to be able to work independently and be self-motivated. They may not always have direct supervision, so they need to be able to take initiative and see projects through from start to finish.

Senior engineers typically have more experience than principal engineers and may be responsible for managing a team of engineers. As such, they need to have strong leadership skills and be able to delegate tasks effectively. They also may need to mentor junior engineers and help them develop their skills.

Principal engineers usually are responsible for overseeing multiple projects at one time. As such, they need to be highly organized and have the ability to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. They also may need to liaise with clients, so they need to have excellent communication skills.


The average salary for a principal engineer is $145,552 per year, while the average salary for a senior engineer is $114,179 per year. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the size of the company, the location of the job and the level of experience the engineer has prior to pursuing either position.


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