7 Ways to Become a Leader in the Lab

By Christina Phillis

Leadership is one aspect of laboratory work that can be a challenge to define and achieve. There are plenty of courses on lab safety and etiquette, but not as many opportunities to learn about being a good leader or manager.

If your goal is to assume a role with greater responsibility one day, or even if you’re in a management position already, here are seven proven practices for becoming a more effective leader in the lab.

  1. Communicate frequently.
    Be aware of what’s going on in your lab by taking a few minutes each week to ask team members about their projects. Frequent, open communication can help uncover unresolved issues and prevent them from getting worse over time. Plus it shows people that you’re listening and that you care.

  2. Establish clear goals.
    When starting a new lab project, establish clearly defined objectives. That means providing detailed descriptions of the output you expect, as well as milestones and due dates. Then schedule regular checkpoints to report on progress. This helps to save time and prevent confusion and frustration later.

  3. Avoid micromanaging.
    Check in with your team on a regular basis, but don’t be overbearing. If you give team members thorough guidance and direction, they will feel confident taking a project in the best direction possible. And you can help them turn their mistakes into learning opportunities.

  4. Give criticism constructively.
    Don’t be afraid to share criticism with team members to help them learn and grow, but find a private space to talk about it. Be objective when providing feedback, and present the facts of the situation. Offer suggestions to redirect and refocus their efforts.

  5. Focus on the positive.
    While it’s important to identify areas for improvement, point out what’s going well. This helps to reinforce the right behavior and keeps spirits high, especially if you’re in the middle of a difficult project.

  6. Follow through.
    Trust is key for a team’s productivity, so don’t make promises you can’t keep. If your team members can’t depend on you to follow through on a promise, their trust for you will erode over time, or they may even try to circumvent you, which could present even bigger problems in the long run.

  7. Show respect.
    People operate best in an environment where they feel like their thoughts and opinions are heard and respected. When someone shares an idea, give it ample consideration and recognition before suggesting an alternative or rejecting it entirely.

As you develop yourself as a leader, you can help create a productive and successful work environment where people feel motivated and comfortable trying new things. In the end, this positive approach can lead to more innovative, exciting research projects and greater employee satisfaction.