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Five Tips to Improve Foundational Leadership Skills

Displaying improved leadership enables the lab to perform and thrive

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Leadership is a critical component of successful lab management. It is the glue that enables the team to cooperate, persist through challenges, and execute the lab’s mission. Most lab managers are promoted from within due to their technical successes and haven’t necessarily been trained for the leadership requirements of the new role. The Lab Leadership Basics course in the Lab Manager Academy is intended to be a cursory review of key leadership skills to help lab managers be more confident in their role.

Here are five tips to improve your approach to embracing the full spectrum of leadership opportunities to help your lab thrive.

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US President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Despite your technical expertise, your team needs to feel how much you care before that knowledge can be deployed for the lab. It is important that your words and actions reflect how much you care about the people, the science, the lab’s output, and the lab’s purpose. Your care will enable lab staff to care about you and the lab’s ability to deliver.


The most important communication skill is active listening. Good listeners avoid interrupting, listen to learn, listen for underlying meaning, and ensure understanding. Good listeners focus on gaining a better understanding of what’s being said, not on preparing their reply. Effective listening enables lab managers to get good information and better understand the issues and challenges the lab faces.

Show gratitude

Please and thank you are the most powerful words in the lab. They show your team that you see them as humans, not as really smart autosamplers. They show how you respect your teammates and appreciate the effort, expertise, and time that they dedicate to getting things done properly in the lab. A little gratitude improves relationships and helps everyone feel better about the work and the workplace.

Give constructive feedback

Providing effective coaching and feedback shows people that you care about  and respect them. Anyone can criticize, but it takes a caring leader to show people how to do something better and more effectively. Make time to interact with staff informally and help them develop and improve. Be conscientious to provide effective formal feedback that is focused on helping them to become better. Helping staff develop improves the skill level in the lab and enables stronger performance.

Make decisions

The lab depends on you to make decisions. Effective leaders make prompt data-driven decisions so that staff can continue with the work. The absence of a decision paralyzes the whole lab and reduces the confidence of staff in your leadership. Unlike technical decisions, you can’t simply do another experiment to get more information. The decision needs to be made with the available data. Data-driven decisions reduce bias, are often better decisions, and are easier to communicate.

Improving leadership is about doing the right things for the lab. Leadership actions typically improve the way the people in the lab interact and work together. More confidently applying leadership basics provides a more stable foundation for effective decision-making.

Embark on a transformative journey in lab management with the Lab Management Certificate program from Lab Manager Academy. We understand the challenges you face in expanding your leadership skills, and we're here to support you every step of the way. Our program empowers you to overcome resistance to change, nurture staff engagement, and kindle innovation within your lab, all while fostering a culture of warmth and collaboration. Embrace generative leadership and the valuable insights of diverse voices as you guide your lab toward enduring success. Your lab's brighter future starts right here, and we're excited to be part of your journey. Discover more about the Lab Management Certificate program here.