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how to advocate for your lab

Three Keys to Advocate for Your Lab

Effectively advocating for the lab requires clear, crisp, and data-driven discussions that demonstrate the benefits of the investment

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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Your lab staff have good ideas of how to grow and improve the research and services you provide to your stakeholders. Some of those ideas require investment in new equipment, instruments, and people. Convincing line management to make those investments in the lab depends on the lab manager to effectively advocate for the lab, which requires clear, crisp, and data-driven discussions that demonstrate the benefits of the investment. Here are three tips that will help you make those arguments a little stronger, and help you convince line management to make the investments in your lab.

#1 – Distinguish needs from wants

In this world of limited budgets and “do more with less” thinking, investment has gotten more difficult. To be successful with proposals for investment, focus on what the labs really needs, and deprioritize what the lab wants. Needs solve problems. Needs keep people safe, protect the quality of the science, and enable the lab to meet its key missions. Wants solve inconveniences. Wants provide the latest technology and make the work a little faster or more interesting. Showing a focus on needs will help build trust with senior managers.

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#2 – Plan ahead

One key of being a successful advocate for the lab is building a coherent plan in advance and demonstrating the lab’s ability to deliver on the plan. To help with advocating for investment, build three-year capital investment and staff development plans. Include the elements of these plans in the annual budgeting process. Build a track record of success through developing and executing these plans. Including both the full costs of the needed investments and the expected revenue benefits in the budget shows senior managers a thoughtful approach to investment, and how that investment will continue to benefit the organization.

#3 – Communicate with a finance vocabulary

Somewhere in the approval chain will be non-scientists who are focused on the financial impact of the investments. Help these people understand the costs and benefits of the needed investments by using calculations like return on investment (ROI) and make-goods. Calculate the predicted ROI by monetizing the expected benefits and comparing it to the expected costs. Being able to convert the benefits of the investment to units of money can be a very effective communication tool when advocating for the lab. After an investment is completed, calculate the make-good. Monetize the actual benefits and compare that to the actual costs. Build a track record of effective use of the investments made by the organization in the lab.

Lab managers who can focus on the right investments, build a positive track record through planning, and show effective use of investments can make much stronger proposals for future investments in the lab.

Thanks for reading. I hope you can use this information. I am very interested in hearing from you. If you have feedback or comments on this set of tips, or suggestions for future Manager Minutes, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at I’m looking forward to our conversations. Thanks.