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2023 Leadership Excellence Awards Winner Spotlight: Natalia Johnson

Winner of the 2023 Excellence in Lab Management award, Natalia Johnson discusses 

by Lab Manager
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Natalia Johnson is the environmental bioassay lab manager at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. Natalia was nominated by her peers for the 2023 Leadership Excellence Awards and received recognition 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.

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Natalia Johnson
Credit: Natalia Johnson

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

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A: I attended Claflin University and I have BS in biology and chemistry. I also have a graduate degree from South Carolina State University. I started my career as a lab technician, and a few years later I accepted a position at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS). As a scientist, I’ve had various roles in different organizations within the company with increasing responsibility over the last 16 years. In my current role as the Environmental Bioassay Lab Manager, I manage lab operations, provide leadership to my technical staff, and interface other mission support organizations. I provide technical oversight to 30 direct reports including a first line manager, nine scientists, eight lab specialists, and 12 lab technicians. I also champion new business opportunities for the lab, establish performance standards, and maintain various lab certifications and accreditations.

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

A: I was totally shocked when I was notified that I won this award. It means so much to me to be recognized as a leader but more specifically excelling in lab management. It means even more to be supported and nominated by my manager. I’m humbled by the recognition and I’m extremely proud of my team and thankful to them for allowing me to be their leader. They make my job easy, and I owe this award to them.

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

A: I love that it has everything! I enjoy the selection of webinars and the diversity in topics ranging from professional development and management topics, lab safety, and technical articles. It’s a great resource for lab managers.

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

A: I have been blessed to have both formal and informal mentors who have poured into me over the years. I emersed myself in all things leadership when I reached my mid-career point. I read books, I attend workshops, but I learned most of my leadership and management skills from volunteering, serving and leading organizations outside of work.

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

A: To be a servant. I approach leadership as a call to serve others. I focus on what I can do to support my team and help them grow. I’m committed to the personal and professional development of everyone on my team.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

A: Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, traveling and community service.

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

A: One of the most common misconceptions about leadership and management is that all managers are good leaders. Leaders typically make good managers, but all managers don’t make good leaders. Manager is a title or a role within an organization. Managers work with or align their group to accomplish a goal. Leaders have the ability to influence, motivate, and empower others to contribute toward organizational success. It’s more about driving change. Influence and inspiration separate leaders from managers.

Another misconception is that just because you are a subject matter expert or high performer, you would make a good manager.

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

A: As a leader, look past problems and create a vision for those you lead and inspire them to convert challenges into opportunities. It’s not always immediate success and it takes building relationships, trust and rallying your team towards the goal and the mission. It takes working at it everyday and celebrating the small wins along the way.

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

A: I always hope to become a more effective leader. I hope to impact my organization and to create new business opportunities for the lab. I hope to continue to grow and develop my team to reach their goals and to continue to lead the lab safely and successfully in support of the site’s missions.