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Recognizing Excellence in Lab Leadership

Winner of Lab Manager’s 2024 Excellence in Lab Leadership Award, Linda Williams, shares advice on how others can excel in their scientific careers

Lauren Everett

Lauren Everett is the managing editor for Lab Manager. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from SUNY New Paltz and has more than a decade of experience in news...

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Effective leadership is paramount in a laboratory work setting, where precision, collaboration, and innovation converge to drive scientific advancement. A skilled laboratory leader plays a pivotal role in fostering a culture of excellence, ensuring smooth operations, and nurturing the professional growth of team members. 

Each year, Lab Manager honors individuals who demonstrate exceptional leadership and management skills through our Leadership Excellence Awards program. The 2024 Leadership Excellence Awards, sponsored by Uncountable, recognized five individuals for their impressive contributions to their respective organizations. 

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Linda Williams, manager of the Analytical Services Laboratory at Santee Cooper, was the recipient of the 2024 Excellence in Lab Leadership Award. Linda was nominated by six of her peers for this award, and through these nominations it was clear to the judging panel that Linda exhibits all the characteristics of an effective and trustworthy leader. As one of her peers noted, “Linda leads with a servant heart. She takes the time to find out what is important to each team member in order for them to perform their best.” 

Another stated, “Her focus on people is the reason we are so successful.” 

Managing editor Lauren Everett recently spoke with Linda to gain her insight into what it takes to be a respected leader and lessons learned from her career journey:

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

A: I gained a lot of knowledge about leadership and management during my MBA studies. I also utilized Santee Cooper’s professional development program. Through this program, I was able to attend instructor-led classes and had access to LinkedIn University. These classes helped build my leadership skills and identified my leadership style. As I progressed through my career, I also observed other leaders and how their leadership style impacted their teams.  

Q: What do you enjoy most about your role?

A: I love to watch people grow in their career and gain the confidence needed to be a successful analyst. I also love to watch science become a larger part in our communities to enhance everyone’s lives for the better.

Q: In your opinion, what are the most important qualities or skills for a laboratory leader to possess?

A: I feel some of the most important skills or qualities that make a good laboratory leader are: 

  • Adaptability: dealing with the everchanging world of science and technology
  • Good communicator: necessary to bridge the gap between your staff, customers, colleagues, and stakeholders
  • Problem solver: address all the challenges that will occur daily in a typical laboratory
  • Empathy (most important skill of all): understand that your staff members are human.  We all make mistakes, experience stressful or difficult times in life, need encouragement or consolation, and it is the job of a good leader to be there for our people and help guide them in the right direction toward success.

Q; How do you manage the balance between performing managerial tasks versus your passion to be involved with the scientific work done in the lab?

A: I still put on a lab coat to assist my staff when they are feeling overwhelmed or are out of the office for a prolonged period. I also love to troubleshoot and repair instrumentation, so I often find my way back to the lab to assist. I believe it is important to gain the trust of your staff and colleagues and to demonstrate that you are not opposed to putting a lab coat back on. Helping your team also enhances your relationships and allows you to evaluate any issues that may require your immediate attention.

“Being a manager is not about you and your own personal gains; it is about the development and success of your team and that is rewarding enough for a good leader.”

Q: What is one of the hardest challenges you’ve faced so far in your career? What learnings did you take from it?

A: The most difficult challenge I face is to balance staff morale with our increased workload without the ability to add additional lab staff or bench space. I have learned to be creative with our processes and I automate as much as possible to help alleviate some of the more menial tasks. For staff morale, I can usually sense when they need a break from laboratory work or are feeling overwhelmed and I will treat them to a fun staff meeting, rewards, food, and teambuilding activities to help uplift their moods. Laughter is the key to maintaining good mental health for you and your staff.

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

A: You will only be a good leader if you accept the role as a laboratory manager for the right reasons. If the reason is based on you and your success, then you will never have happy staff members or even be perceived as a role model. Being a manager is not about you and your own personal gains; it is about the development and success of your team and that is rewarding enough for a good leader.

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

A: I hope to help develop my current staff so they can reach their fullest potential and have the confidence to do or go anywhere they want in their career. I want to be able to retire and feel confident that my team can do even greater things without me by their side.

Linda’s career journey:

Linda Williams is the laboratory manager of Analytical Services at Santee Cooper (South Carolina Public Service Authority). She leads the Analytical Services team, which is comprised of seven professional laboratory analysts, a quality control specialist, and a supervisor.  Analytical Services is made up of two laboratories, Environmental and Fuels, where the team is responsible for providing analytical data for internal customers to include environmental monitoring and compliance, fuel quality pricing, transformer reliability, drinking water and ambient lake water quality, and contractual analyses for beneficial use products.

Linda is a graduate of Charleston Southern University, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry and a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis on Human Resources. She began her career at Santee Cooper in 2006 as an analyst in the Fuels Laboratory. After two years, she was promoted to the role of nutrients laboratory specialist where she spent the next decade of her career before being promoted to laboratory manager in 2018. She serves as laboratory director and radiation safety officer, where she is responsible for maintaining over 101 SCDHEC laboratory certifications in clean water, safe drinking water, and solid & hazardous acts. She is also a continuous improvement facilitator and utilizes Six Sigma principles to streamline and improve processes throughout the laboratory.

When she isn’t working in the laboratory, she is spending time with her best friend and husband of over 20 years and her two amazing boys, one of which has Down Syndrome and the other is a typical teenager. Her passions include science and technology, learning new things, and being an advocate for the acceptance and inclusion of individuals with disabilities. She loves to use chemistry every day while cooking her favorite dishes for her family. Her happiest times are spent with her family and friends, whether it is during vacation or just spending time outside while enjoying each other’s company.