Leadership in the Laboratory: 5 Key Strategies for Lab Management Success

Leadership in the Laboratory: 5 Key Strategies for Lab Management Success
Carol Jennings

5 minutes

Leadership in the Laboratory: 5 Key Strategies for Lab Management Success

Synergy scientific solutions explore 5 of the most impactful strategies to improve leadership in the laboratory.

Leadership in the laboratory has never been so pivotal. 

Talent shortages have heightened the competition for skilled laboratory personnel, while investment by employers in staff development remains lower than comparable STEM sectors. 

To succeed in the face of uncertainty and exponential change, laboratory leaders must adapt their approach to resource management, and consider how to prioritise, empower, and retain their people.

In this article, I will explore:

  • The importance of laboratory management
  • Common problems laboratory leaders face
  • 5 key leadership strategies that improve laboratory success

The importance of laboratory management

According to research from McKinsey, talent management is the most powerful way to achieve laboratory success. 

Of the six core practices influencing lab productivity, talent management was the most closely correlated with success, and the most accessible opportunity for improvement.
This means that regardless of existing talent management strategies, talent management delivered a better return than any other efforts made by the laboratories involved in the research.

However, given the complexity of the laboratory environment, talent management practices can be challenging for leaders to reliably establish. McKinsey’s research found all surveyed researchers (including industry leaders) described talent management as the area most in need of improvement.

Common problems in clinical laboratory management

Paul L.Epner, CEO and Co-founder for the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine describes a growing propensity to conceptualise laboratories as factories, driven by a need for productivity at the lowest possible cost. 

In an article from the Clinical Laboratory Management Association, he says “talk to laboratory professionals and you’re likely to hear them lament to which laboratories are devalued within our system of healthcare, as well as express concerns over the constant pressure on budgets that inevitably lead to staff cuts.”

Leaders in laboratory management are consequently faced with three core goals:

  • To provide high quality patient results
  • To provide acceptable productivity levels
  • Assure the financial survival of the service

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, laboratory management has become increasingly vulnerable to industry demand

Scaling an exponential influx in production has been a core challenge for a sector traditionally designed to sustain a customised volume of tests for the local health sector. 

Under these pressing circumstances, resources were largely deployed across laboratories without an efficient communication network.

Current industry changes have led to the following key challenges:

  • Rapid expansion demand of testing capabilities
  • Laboratory medicine and personnel shortages
  • Heightened productivity demand 


5 key leadership strategies for laboratory managers -


1. Prioritise your people

Laboratories rely on two fundamental resources; equipment and staff.

Leaders must prioritise their staff according to their laboratory’s goals, ensuring that test types, employee skill sets and equipment types are all optimally aligned to enable the best possible performance.

Regularly evaluating staff to understand their developing skill sets, and interests in other areas is important to recognise underutilised potential, and enable better task scheduling. 
When a leader can allocate staff to tasks that match with their skills, they not only facilitate the success of the project, they improve employee motivation and productivity. 

Research shows talent selected for a project based on research experience are more likely to achieve project success, and have a better overall performance compared to their peers. 

2. Enable professional growth 

Research shows that a laboratory professional’s growth is linked to total organisational success.

Laboratory managers should familiarise themselves with their own personal strengths and weaknesses. To enable successful leadership, laboratory managers should foster self-awareness, ensuring that the mission of the organisation remains at the core of their work, and strategy even across busy periods. 

Meanwhile, investing in your team and enabling the professional growth of staff is an equally important area of focus. The dyamic nature of the clinical laboratory requires a workforce with a growing skill-set to match the technological developments and innovations in the sector.

Facilitating this means taking the time to provide further opportunities in areas of expertise, and potential. This could be as simple as senior team members mentoring new researchers in solo sessions or providing annual personal development plans. 

3. Communicate plans for the unexpected

As has become evident over the course of the pandemic, alternate work planning can rapidly become crucial to business continuity.

It’s important to ensure that staff understand what alternate work plans could look like and that information is provided on where to seek advice outside of the laboratory in case of an emergency.
It’s important to align your alternate work planning with the needs, and goals of your organisation. 

Research indicates that taking operations off-site can limit communication and make management more challenging. 
Scientific services can provide insourced teams that work alongside your staff without needing additional management support - enabling you to focus on your staff, and core science. 

4. Create opportunities for succession

When a core manager leaves, the laboratory can quickly become vulnerable and in need of strategic direction. 
If the previous manager has established development plans and supported potential leaders in developing the key attributes required to succeed, the laboratory can better recover and avoid costly interruption. 

By creating opportunities for succession, laboratory leaders help support both the future of the laboratory and the career progression of their high-potential staff.

5. Align staff with a common goal

In the resource-constrained environment of the laboratory, managers have a crucial responsibility in the meaningful existence and success of the organisation. 
Leaders that have a vision of what their work will accomplish, communicate this to staff, and evolve strategies for realising that vision, improve the motivation and productivity of the workforce. 
This is because they are better able to negotiate for resources, and support systems to achieve their goals. 

Ready to empower your workforce?

Synergy is a scientific service specialist providing teams that boost laboratory capability, potential and efficiency, from within. 

We help clinical laboratories overcome key industry challenges, and bolster resource strength with specialist talent, who are sourced, managed and developed by us.

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