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2022 Leadership Excellence Awards Winner Spotlight: Lily Vuong Sanchez

Winner of the 2022 Excellence in Lab Management Award, Lily Vuong Sanchez, discusses her continuous work to improve her professional skills, and what she believes will make someone a good leader

by Lab Manager
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Lily Vuong Sanchez is supervising chemist with Orange County Water District in Fountain Valley, CA. Sanchez earned recognition in the 2022 Lab Manager Leadership Excellence Awards as the recipient of the Excellence in Lab Management Award, which focuses on the lab’s mission. This award was designed for someone who demonstrates a keen eye for doing many things right, such as building effective safety and quality programs, delivering excellent technical results, and exceeding organizational goals. 

Sanchez spoke with Lab Manager about her experience working at OCWD, the strategies and tools she uses to improve her management skills, and the traits she believes all effective leaders should possess. 

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Leadership Excellence Awards winner Lily Vuong Sanchez
Lily Vuong Sanchez
Lab Manager

Q: Can you briefly discuss your background, and what you do in your current role?

A: After graduating with a chemistry degree from CSU Long Beach, my first year of professional work experience came from a private industry laboratory before I joined Orange County Water District (OCWD). Over the past 30 years at OCWD, I have served many different positions within the laboratory and performed different tasks/duties including method development, Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), quality assurance and quality control, writing and reviewing SOPs, training, management, and project leading and planning. My focus and expertise are analytical drinking water methods such as EPA 500 series and the UCMR program, using GC, GC/MS, HPLC, and LC-MS/MS instruments.

In the last 13 years, I have served the role of organic supervising chemist. As a working supervisor, I am still involved in bench work in addition to my management position duties. I enjoy leading our lab’s Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) project and working with staff to bring online methods such as EPA 537.1 and 533 as well as processing samples and providing training to staff.

Q: What was your reaction to winning this award, and what does it mean to you to win?

A: I was pleasantly surprised to receive the announcement notification from Lab Manager. I was overjoyed and excited at the same time.

For the last five years, my main goal has been to learn from other successful and great leaders to improve myself and my leadership skills. This award means my perseverance to continue learning and improving myself has paid off. I am honored that my manager has recognized my improvements, efforts, and contributions to our team.

Q: What do you value the most about Lab Manager’s offerings/content? 

A: Even though it is a free subscription, Lab Manager brings the latest information about lab instruments, research, breakthroughs, and innovations from all different applications and sources of background to its audiences. I can find almost anything I need from Lab Manager’s digital newsletter.

What I value most are the leadership articles from the newsletter and the online webinars and virtual conferences, which have been especially useful during the pandemic. 

Q: What resources or individuals did you learn your leadership and management skills from?

A: At the early stages, I took supervisor/leadership courses at Saddleback College; I also received some training from OCWD’s leadership training program for new supervisors and managers. In the last few years, I started reading articles on leadership from the Lighthouse blog and Lab Manager. My number one resource for motivation and leadership skills have been audio books/records on YouTube because I can learn on the go daily. I found that it is more effective to listen to these teachings and coaching every day. My favorite audio books and recordings are from Napoleon Hill, Jim Rohn, Bob Proctor, James Allen, and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few.

Q: In your opinion and experience, what is the most important quality or trait a good leader needs to have?

A: Walk the talk. Care about your staff and be there for your team and always ready to help and participate in team projects. 

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

A: Traveling—I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to Australia, Japan, China, and several countries in Europe. I appreciate experiencing the beauties, histories, and culture of other countries. 

Gardening—it gives me joy, serenity, and satisfaction when I see blooming flowers and hanging fruits everywhere I look in my garden. 

Spending time with family—I enjoy listening to my mom’s stories about our ancestors’ histories. 

Sewing, cross stitch, crochet, and knitting

Q: What do you think are some common misconceptions about good leadership and management?

A: A good leader isn’t born—a person can become a good leader through training, education, and experience.

Being best in their work will make them a good leader—if they cannot work well with other people, especially their own coworkers, they won’t be respected and listened to even though they have the necessary experience and knowledge.

Telling people what to do and having unrealistic expectations—being a good leader isn’t about telling others what to do; we need to give them the necessary guidance for them to complete their tasks. A good leader works with their team, so everyone accomplishes what they need to do. Having unrealistic expectations will only create unnecessary pressures on the team members that can possibly hinder their work efficiency and quality.

Q: What’s the best piece of management and/or leadership advice you can share with our readers?

A: Be self-aware. Be humble. Be considerate. Have empathy. Leadership is about the people, and our success is measured by our team’s achievements. Building trust with your team and appreciating and valuing the skills of each team member will only benefit the team and maintain a high morale. Also, recognizing and admitting to our mistakes allows others to take this as a learning experience and show others that it is ok to make mistakes. Always remember: everyone wants to do a good job.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years in your role?

A: Before I retire from OCWD, I will continue working hands-on side-by-side with the team to share my knowledge/experience as well as training our staff to become self-sufficient. I hope to cultivate our staff to be the next generation leaders with good morals and leadership skills. I hope my contributions will keep the lab moving forward and improving for years to come.

Sanchez and fellow Leadership Excellence Awards winners will accept their award plaques during the Lab Manager Leadership Summit, taking place in Baltimore, MD, May 16-18. To learn more about this valuable event and to register to attend, visit: