CAD Manager Survey 2004: Part 1

31 Oct, 2004 By: Robert Green

How does your position stack up?

One of the most common questions I'm asked by CAD managers is, "What should I be paid for this job?" To try to answer this question with some degree of certainty, I began surveying CAD managers in the summer of 2000. At that time, I thought the survey would verify some information about salaries, but not really generate much interest beyond that.

Since then, I've continued to survey CAD managers, much to the interest of CAD managers and even some well-known CAD vendors. The survey has grown to encompass not just compensation levels but a host of economic and job trend data as well.

As always, I want to state clearly that I'm not a statistician or a pollster. I'm simply trying to gauge the CAD management market based on the questions I get from readers and clients during my everyday business dealings. I hope you find the results informative.

The Survey

This year, I conducted the CAD Manager's Survey during September and October 2004 from a pool of CAD Manager's Newsletter readers and their peers. The survey was designed to make scoring simple by limiting respondents to a range of standard answers and numeric inputs. In addition to quantitative data, I also asked for qualitative input on such topics as job skills, job security, and the financial stability of the participant's employers. My goal remains unchanged from prior surveys: To gather enough data about CAD managers to draw conclusions about how we should all plan for our future careers. If you'd like to read the survey form, do so at

Random responses to the survey were returned by 698 readers. This yields a statistical sampling rate of roughly 3.3% of the subscribed newsletter reader base. The data was compiled in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to sort and compute statistical elements such as means, averages, and deviations. This month, I'll address the key numerical totals for job title, salary, stations/persons managed, and software used. Along the way I'll draw a few educated conclusions to help you read between the lines and see where you rank among your peers.

 Figure 1. Job titles of CAD managers who answered this survey.
Figure 1. Job titles of CAD managers who answered this survey.

Job Title

Of all respondents, 399 (57%) said that their job title was CAD manager, about the same as the 56% tallied last year. The remaining respondents identified themselves as designers (14%), CAD technicians (12%), engineer or architect (13%), and IT/IS manager (4%). The continuing trend observed in the survey data (figure 1) is that 4 out of 10 CAD managers aren't full-time CAD managers, but are professionals inside the company who are pressed into CAD management duties in addition to their regular jobs.

Compared with last year's data, there has been no major shift in who is performing CAD management duties, but there has been a radical shift in how much people are getting paid to do CAD management. As the salary survey data shows, more and more CAD managers are either highly experienced professionals (engineers and architects) taking over CAD manager duties or lower-paid technical personnel (CAD technicians and designers). Either way, there are fewer full-time CAD managers this year than last, and the long-term trend continues downward.


The average salary reported by all respondents was $55,062 (up from $52,419 in the 2003 survey). The lowest figure was $1,800 from a small city in India, and the top salary was $150,000 from a large U.S. city. The median response (exactly in the middle of the 698 respondents) was $50,050, while the standard deviation for the sampling was a staggering $28,148 (up from $17,573 last year). Interpreting this data in a bell curve illustration, we can say that 68% of the CAD managers in our survey make between $21,902 and $78,198 (as compared with $32,512 and $67,482 in the 2003 survey) because this income band represents ±1 standard deviation about the mean.

Though the average salary has moved up about 5% in the past year, the already huge standard deviation in wages continues to widen. The broadening pay scale for CAD managers (figure 2) simply verifies the demographic data and conclusions presented in the Job Titles section of the survey: More lower-wage employees are now doing CAD management, and more upper-level managers have added CAD management tasks to their areas of responsibility. The erosion of the full-time, mid-pay-level CAD manager position is undeniable in light of this salary data.

Figure 2. CAD managers salary range.
Figure 2. CAD managers salary range.

CAD Stations/Persons Managed

The average CAD manager is now responsible for maintaining 23.8 CAD machines (up slightly from 22.6 last year), yet provides support for 73.9 users. This result points to the clearly expanding role of CAD manager as a technical support resource for personnel outside his or her own CAD department. In fact, the number of users supported is now in line with the current industry IT/IS standards of roughly 80 users per support staff member.

Closer examination of the survey data reveals that many CAD managers are so pressed that support of several hundred CAD users is not unusual. In another interesting statistical change, it's becoming common for CAD managers to bear large user-support burdens, but no hardware support burdens at all. The trend toward IT/IS departments maintaining CAD machines just like any other computer has now been solidified, with the exception that CAD software support remains fully in the CAD manager's domain.

Hire/Fire and Budget

When asked whether they had the authority to hire and fire staff members, CAD managers replied with a resounding 79% no and only 21% yes. This result is much lower than in the last survey, where only 64% of CAD managers reported no hire/fire authority. Not surprisingly, the authority to purchase was reported by only 24% of respondents, a number that dovetails almost exactly with hire and fire authority.

Taken together, the authority to hire, fire, and purchase says a lot about how empowered CAD managers are. I'm afraid it isn't good news for CAD managers. When CAD managers have less authority, they have to become craftier and more political to get what they need within their organizations. These downward trends in managerial authority verify that more CAD managers are providing technical support as a part-time adjunct to their production-oriented jobs. In other words: more and more CAD managers aren't really managers.

Manage More, For Less

As was the case with the last survey, I'm not comfortable with where CAD management is heading. Though salary numbers are stable, the trend toward the part-time CAD manager appears irreversible, as witnessed by increasingly wide-ranging salary numbers and pressure for design professionals to double as CAD managers.

Beyond the financial data, the increasing number of users and machines that CAD managers are expected to manage, combined with the historically low number of CAD managers with hiring and firing authority, paints a picture of a pressure-packed job with no authority to really undertake staff building and cost cutting that could lead to increased productivity and efficiency. I think it's safe to say that being a CAD manager isn't getting any easier.

Next month, I'll continue the survey analysis by examining some interesting software and technology trends. I'll also post an expanded version of the survey analysis at my Web site, at that time. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or comments regarding the survey.

Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him at

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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