Supervising a laboratory requires a career-minded individual who ensures all experiments work towards a common goal. Laboratory management is more than just technical skills; it is the ability to organize and plan in a way that keeps other lab members focused on that goal while using their time efficiently and safely.

Organization

Scientific laboratories rely on supervisors to ensure projects are carried out safely and following established protocols. This includes creating a hierarchy, so the project head reports to the supervisor and the senior scientists train their junior associates. Using this formula, a lab supervisor ensures the proper chain is in place to keep the lab organized. For example, a lab supervisor might schedule meetings for each project and include them on the timeline to allow the participants to prepare questions and gather results the night before.

Training falls under the lab supervisor purview, as well. A laboratory training manual provides a comprehensive introduction to the lab equipment, policies and procedures. The manual might include:

Links to laboratory exercises and tests
Sample protocols
Literature resources
Sample forms
Training should be scheduled for all employees, not just the management personnel and new hires. A lab supervisor should disseminate information about continuing education. In addition, regular training in new equipment/current industry standards should be available.

Leadership

In a well-run lab, the supervisor is both an administrator and a leader. All supervisors lead by example, but in a science-based lab, this includes enhancing safety protocols and improving productivity.

Vision involves setting a direction for the lab and personally following it. A good leader in any sector establishes productive relationships with the lab staff to create a unified, yet managed, environment – one that allows other scientists to offer and receive feedback.

Communication and delegation are at the heart of proper leadership. Once mastered, a lab supervisor will make fair decisions and manage conflicts naturally.

Control

It is the job of the laboratory supervisor to manage the activities of others. This goes beyond project creation. A lab supervisor should have expert knowledge of the scientific tools and equipment used for each project, as well as understanding each staffer’s skill set. This control extends to:

  • Establishing timelines and deadlines

  • Creating budgets

  • Writing papers and researching funding options

  • Teaching classes for both new and current employees

  • Assessing the progress of the lab

A leader does more than manage; he or she must influence others to accomplish a shared goal. Leadership can be broken down into three key factors:

  • Vision

  • Relationships

  • Tasks

That control allows the supervisor to create an environment that is both productive and safe – one that works within established protocols, follows established research techniques and delivers accurate and valuable data.


Sources

Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management and Postdocs and New Faculty, Burroughs Wellcome Fund and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2006 http://bit.ly/1oJOZ6s

DNA Analyst Training Laboratory Training Manual User Guide, President’s DNA Initiative, http://bit.ly/1oJP5Lg

Sandquist, Elizabeth, How to Become a Good Lab Manager, ASBMB Today, October 2013, http://bit.ly/1oJPc9L