Lab managers often enter into the role without any formal leadership or management training, causing them to learn on the go, by trial and error. But becoming an effective, trusted lab manager is a complex challenge that requires the development of a diverse set of skills and knowledge—from budgeting and advocating for new investments to conflict management and establishing open communication with staff, among many other things.
There are a variety of organizations, educational programs, and other resources for both aspiring and seasoned lab managers, which can add tools to their management toolbox. This article will highlight a few examples of resources for lab managers and cover some basic traits and qualities that successful lab managers possess.
Never stop learning: The Lab Manager Academy
To help fill the gap of the lack of management and leadership training available to lab professionals, Lab Manager recently launched the Lab Manager Academy. This eLearning program provides strategies, how-tos, and insightful guidance catered specifically to the unique responsibilities of lab managers. In the online training curriculum, you can take individual lab management courses, or sign up for track-level certificates that will sharpen your existing leadership and management skills and either prepare you for taking on a lab manager role or improve your ability to succeed in your current lab manager role. Tracks include:
- How to Manage Lab Staff
- How to Improve Operations
- How to Be a Better Lab Leader
- How to Improve Lab Management
The courses can be completed at your own pace, and each includes activities and a short quiz to reinforce the concepts taught. As a lab manager, it is important to invest in your own personal development. As one Academy user explained, “Every course I take in this program is connecting with me, and I feel like it’s already making a difference.” Another Academy participant who completed the Recruiting, Hiring, and Onboarding course said, “I have convinced my manager to let me re-vamp our entire onboarding process because of this course. It opened my eyes to the importance of onboarding.”
Join organizations: Meet peers and mentors
One of the best ways to grow as a lab manager is by learning from experienced leaders who have been in your shoes. That’s why joining organizations like The Association of Laboratory Managers (ALMA) is so beneficial. “ALMA is a non-profit organization composed of all lab managers, which means we know the challenges lab managers face on a daily basis,” says Christie Bowden, past president of ALMA and R&D manager, Analytical and Systems Research, Arkema Inc. “Thus, ALMA’s mission is to provide a unique platform where lab managers can come together to network, share, discuss and learn from each other.”
ALMA hosts annual in-person conferences, which include workshops, presentations from managers who share their experiences, roundtable discussions with peers from around the world, and networking opportunities. The organization also offers webinars and management tips, which Bowden says have helped her advance in her career, as well as nurture her team’s performance. “I have increased my ability to more effectively listen and communicate, strategically think, brainstorm and ideate with others, work with teams, and sharpen my networking skills,” she says.
Tracy Wieder, senior manager, research support at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, wishes she knew of ALMA much earlier in her career to help her navigate the challenges she faced as a young leader. Now, as a board member of ALMA, she is giving that support to the next generation of lab leaders. “Through ALMA’s conferences, I have networked with numerous young lab managers who are seeking a community of people who understand their challenges and mentoring to help guide them through their challenges. I have been thrilled to be able to provide this kind of mentorship to several young lab managers,” says Wieder.
The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is another great organization that provides career and personal development resources. As its website states, “AWIS is a global network that inspires bold leadership, research, and solutions that advance women in STEM, spark innovation, promote organizational success, and drive systemic change.” AWIS hosts educational webinars, produces articles and newsletters, and features a career center to help talented STEM professionals find employment.
ALMA and AWIS are just a couple examples of the numerous groups available for STEM leaders. Explore what local chapters of organizations may be in your area or conduct searches on LinkedIn to expand your personal network.
Leadership traits and management strategies
A core part of being an effective manager is being a good leader. There are different styles of leadership, so the first step in being a good leader is identifying which style matches your personality, values, and goals best.
Confidence will naturally grow as you become more comfortable in your management role and build your skills. But in the early stages of being a lab manager, you may experience feelings of imposter syndrome that cause you to doubt your abilities as a manager and leader. It’s important to remember that all great leaders likely struggled with confidence at some point during their careers as well. As contributing writer Sherri L. Bassner, PhD, says, “Sometimes, the person presenting the most confidence is the one who is suffering the most from imposter syndrome. In new roles or in times of rapid change, a leader will always struggle with some degree of doubt.” Bassner also offers tips for lab managers on how to build confidence.
Confidence is an important trait for leaders to possess, but it is not the only one. Qualities and behaviors such as active listening, being vulnerable, asking for help, and perseverance are crucial to succeeding in a leadership role. Later in this series, we share 12 leadership qualities of effective lab managers, the importance of each, and how to develop these qualities.
The journey to lab management will be unique for every individual looking to reach this destination, but there are tools and resources to not only help you get there, but to also be sufficiently prepared when you are offered the role.