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A room full of more than 100 attendees gathers for the first day of the 2022 Lab Manager Leadership Summit
A room full of more than 100 attendees gathers for the first day of the 2022 Lab Manager Leadership Summit
Lab Manager

Recap of the 2022 Lab Manager Leadership Summit

Mentorship, networking, and a sense of community drove success of the 2022 Lab Manager Leadership Summit

Lauren Everett

More than 100 lab professionals gathered in Baltimore, MD, last week, eager for the return of the in-person Lab Manager Leadership Summit after a two-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone arrived with similar goals in mind—to improve their leadership skills and discover innovative solutions to their lab management challenges. 

Tuesday, May 17: Day 1 presentations

The first day of presentations began with Jeff Tobe, certified speaking professional, MEd, CSP, with an energetic talk titled, “We Think You’re Great—Now Change!” This discussion focused on ways that lab managers can not only accept and implement change but thrive from it. To do this, Tobe outlined seven steps to effectively implement change in the lab. See Image 1 for more details on those steps. 

Seven steps to implement change management
Image 1: Change Management Strategy
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Dwayne Henry, instructional lab manager of chemical and biological sciences at Montgomery College, delivered a personal presentation on the importance of mentorship—both for the mentee and mentor. Henry explained how a lack of appropriate mentors available to him during his academic and early professional career inspired him to be the mentor to others that he wished he had. His presentation had an emotional impact on many in the audience. 

Paula McDaniel, retired business development director, explained the lab manager’s role in aligning the lab’s work with the overall organization’s or clients’ goals. She outlined steps to identify operational gaps in the lab by asking “voice of customer” questions such as, “Are we meeting expectations?”, “How have things progressed over the last year and are we meeting goals?” It is important for the lab manager to do their homework, talk with fellow staff and internal or external customers, and gather all feedback to develop a game plan to address gaps in people processes, timelines, quality, and safety,and to improve efficiencies. 

 Nancy Ross, founder of Improov Consulting, defined quality as the “constant pursuit of excellence.” She compared the concept of lab quality to an iceberg, where the top of the iceberg, which is visible above the water, is like the lab’s results. But underneath the surface, there are many other factors that contribute to the quality of the lab’s data, such as calibration, maintenance, competency of staff, and inventory management, among others. A successful lab quality approach will look beyond the end results and focus on every step along the way. Ross went on to outline examples of quality indicators for labs and how to implement performance improvement framework.

Jonathan Klane, senior safety editor for Lab Manager, used his storytelling skills to talk about “Lab Safety Through the Lens of Varying Risk Perceptions.” As Klane explained, everyone has their own perceptions and biases that can impact how they evaluate different scenarios of risk in the lab. Understanding these biases, as well as using the power of storytelling to get your safety message across is an impactful and more engaging way to approach lab safety. 

Jim Sweeney, senior product manager, technology services, PerkinElmer, discussed how developing a strategy for data management will reap numerous benefits for your lab. His key piece of advice was to focus on the critical data to decision-making, not simply “collect all the data that is available.” This approach will be efficient and provide you with the insights you need to make better decisions for your lab.

The winners of the 2022 Lab Manager Leadership Excellence Awards were also honored during the first day of presentations. These awards recognize the hard work and dedication of a few exceptional lab managers. Entrants were asked to demonstrate the success of their staff and organization, and how the nominated lab manager played a starring role in that success.

To wrap up the first day of presentations, a panel discussion led by Scott Hanton, Paula McDaniel, Jonathan Klane, and Jim Sweeney encouraged an open conversation with attendees who posed questions to the panelists and offered their own input to others’ leadership challenges. 

After a successful first day, attendees and exhibitors enjoyed more complimentary food and drinks at the summit venue before walking across the street to experience a Major League Baseball game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was a beautiful night for baseball.  

Wednesday, May 18: Day 2 presentations

Scott Hanton, PhD, editorial director for Lab Manager, welcomed attendees to the second day of presentations with his talk on how to “Improve Your Lab’s Culture Through Positive Leadership.” Hanton started by giving examples of what positive leadership doesn’t look like, such as a leader who is overly optimistic, is soft on accountability, anti-conflict, or unrealistic. Instead, leaders should ask, “How can we bring out the best in our organization, as both people and contributors to the organization?” Hanton elaborated on the key elements of positive leadership (see Image 2) and talked about the importance of emotional and psychological safety in the workplace to ensure a positive work environment. 

Key elements of positive leadership
Image 2: Positive Leadership
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Christie Bowden, R&D manager at Arkema, Inc. discussed the challenges of developing new leadership for the lab. She provided a new and useful definition of lab leadership: “Laboratory leadership is the utilization of interpersonal skills and influence to set, align, and achieve laboratory goals while empowering and motivating lab staff to personally develop.” Through the course of the talk, Bowden explored ways to enable new and potential lab leaders to be successful delivering those elements of leadership to their teams.

Tammy Germini, executive director of operations – health systems for Quest Diagnostics talked about the benefits of combining operational excellence, quality, and fiscal responsibility. By optimizing lab testing to benefit patient care, significant cost savings can be achieved across the health system organization.

Melissa Zeier, product manager, enterprise services at Agilent Technologies, presented on ways to improve lab innovation through more effective asset management and the benefits of labs moving towards a digital state. She provided ways to use data to make more informed decisions about the acquisition, maintenance, and end of life of lab assets. Her takeaway message was “measure, benchmark, optimize, and measure again.”

Michelle Sprawls, director of science at CULTA, presented a wide-ranging discussion of the  basic leadership skills required of a new lab manager, and ways to improve your knowledge and understanding of how to deliver these expectations of the role. Her talk was an excellent capstone for the event, as she covered the wide variety of skills, knowledge, and experience required from most lab managers. Being relatively new to this role herself, she provided a personal approach of how these skills can be acquired and improved.

Most asked questions and key takeaways

There were a few common themes that continued to be discussed throughout the Leadership Summit. The first was initially introduced in Tobe’s presentation but continued to be referred to in other discussions. Tobe explained the concept of cost versus value as a motivator to get buy-in from staff when asking for help or requesting something new from them. Lab managers need to determine what benefit a staff member will get out of completing your request. The value of completing this task needs to exceed the cost of their efforts. Tobe related this to change management, but the concept was applicable in many other topics as well. 

Effective communication became another trend of the event. Whether in mentorship, change management, positive leadership, or organizational gap evaluation, an abundance of communication is always necessary. Lab managers need to communicate with their teams often and establish a lab climate where staff feel comfortable to express their ideas or concerns freely. 

The final trend revolved around the modern-day workforce and balancing the needs of both a younger generation of workers and the older, more seasoned employees. Many questions and conversations occurred over the challenges of managing a mixed generation of employees. One solution is reverse mentoring, which can help more experienced employees learn new skills while giving the younger mentor a sense of purpose.

The 2022 Lab Manager Leadership Summit helped develop a strong sense of community among lab professionals from all types of labs across the US and internationally. Without this event, attendees would otherwise never have met, learned from each other, and discovered new perspectives and strategies that they can now implement in their labs. As one attendee said, "This was one of the most interesting and beneficial conferences I have attended that is specific to my role." 

Based on this success and the overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees, the Lab Manager team is thrilled to share that the 2023 Lab Manager Leadership Summit will be held April 24-26 in College Park, MD. More information to come. We hope to see you there!