The Fellowship, under its first President, Lord Hinton of Bankside OM KBE FREng FRS, set out to demonstrate its interdisciplinary expertise. Learned society activities began in 1977, when the Fellowship held its first soiree 'to illustrate the best in British engineering', and founded its Distinction (later Christopher Hinton) lecture series. Good relations were fostered with the Royal Society and working groups were set up on subjects such as the education of engineers and technicians in relation to materials, which became the first Fellowship publication in May 1978.
From the start, Fellowship reports aimed to show that best engineering practice depends not just on innovative technology but on safe procedures, reliability and reducing environmental impact – a 1981 report examined ways to reduce lead in the environment. By 1979 the Fellowship's interdisciplinary expertise was being recognised within government and the Department of Industry asked it to advise on ways of improving manufacturing performance.
The Fellowship also began to establish international discussions with engineering academies overseas, as a founder member of what was to become the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS) in 1978.
After some difficulties in the very early days, the Fellowship was becoming more financially secure, after an appeal raised almost £1,000,000. It started to expand its activities, taking on the annual MacRobert Award for excellence in engineering innovation, originally run by the Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI).