young laboratory leader

The path from junior laboratory scientist to senior scientist or director can be daunting. Though a good foundation in scientific knowledge and increasing experience in the day-to-day challenges of the clinical lab help get us there, not many laboratorians have a PhD in leadership. While leadership may not initially seem critical early in your career, seizing opportunities for growth and influence early on can help us be recognized as leaders long before an official title confers it.

However, navigating and even finding such opportunities can be challenging. On Saturday (July 29) AACC members convened at this year’s annual Society for Young Clinical Laboratorians (SYCL) workshop, “Developing an Influential Leadership Role for Laboratory Professionals,” to discover fresh strategies.

The theme of this year’s SYCL workshop built upon related themes of previous years’ workshops. Steve Cotten, PhD, chair of this year’s SYCL Workshop Subcommittee, noted that leadership continues to be a common area of interest to SYCL members. “Leadership skills play a big role in professional development regardless of your job title,” Cotten said. “This year’s workshop expanded upon concepts discussed at last year’s workshop related to influence and communication by applying them to specific areas of laboratory management.”

To kick off this year’s event, Susan Evans, PhD, spoke to the benefits of creating impactful relationships between medical centers and vendors. Evans, an AACC Past President, is the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine. “Partnerships can start small, but keep an eye toward renewal,” Evans said.

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She illustrated this concept with an example of a collaboration she launched between her company and a large academic medical center for the development of a new CK-MB test. This partnership for one clinical assay led to a long-standing collaborative relationship for many additional tests.

Next, Michael Astion, MD, PhD provided the audience with a “conflict management toolbox,” a list of tips for mitigating workplace disagreements in effective ways before they become inflated. Astion asked the workshop attendees to share their own stories of personal work conflicts and how the toolbox items were or could have been useful.

One way to position yourself as a leader within your institution’s administration is to save them money. As laboratorians, we typically know what we’re looking for when evaluating a new analyzer, but it’s often hard to know if we’re getting a good deal. Juan David Garcia, MBA, BS(MT) gave an excellent overview of how to effectively negotiate contracts for the clinical lab. He reminded the audience that negotiation does not have to stop at capital costs and can include such items as service agreements, LIS interface costs, and employee training.

The workshop’s final speaker, Josie Foranoce, MT(ASCP), shared practical information on how a lab leader can drive a collaborative and productive team. She opened with a powerful anonymous quote: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Foranoce stressed the importance of lab leaders remaining engaged, happy, and enthusiastic at work—even though these qualities may not be in our job descriptions—so that we can expect our employees to behave the same. She encouraged audience members to try regular “employee rounding” to stay informed about possible barriers to the employees’ responsibilities in the lab.

In addition to the extraordinary presentations, the workshop provided opportunities for attendees to interact and share ideas with one another. Attendees left with insights from esteemed leaders in laboratory medicine, as well as practical tips to implement effective leadership strategies at their own institutions.