Lab Management: Best Practices led to Best Results


Good laboratories are at the heart of ground breaking research, and good laboratory management is the lifeblood of quality science. It should come as no surprise that the most successful centres of industrial and scientific research are those that enjoy solid leadership. The latter comes about by not merely promoting talented bench researchers to positions of responsibility, but can instead arise from the implementation of a few simple principles to be followed on a daily basis.

In a very informing article by Elizabeth Sandquist, “How to become a good lab manager”, the author whittles down essential elements for correct lab management into 4 easily digestible and implementable practices, each of which is a must in the recipe for a research facility that consistently produces work of the highest standards. Let’s take a brief look at what she writes:

Number 1 on the “to-do” list is planning. In many ways, this practice is ubiquitous in any managerial position, but it may be over-looked in daily goings-on. Remembering the big picture will guide the prioritisation of tasks and contribute significantly to cost-saving and efficiency as inessentials can be identified and done away with.

Second on the list, organisation, is as common in managerial positions as planning; but, as many managers will attest to, it is often trickier than it seems. When organising, a multitude of objectives, timelines, budgets, etc. must be borne in mind, and each must be optimised to achieve best-in-class results. Even if the lab manager is naturally talented in juggling the above elements, a short course in project management may prove to be extremely beneficial.

Number three on Sandquist’s list is leadership. Simply put, lab workers should trust that their work is goal-directed and that there is a leader navigating the ship to success. Leadership styles are very varied, and it is a matter of much controversy whether there is one, single style that outshines other styles. Whatever leadership style you use, the most important facet of your relationship with your researchers is trust: second-guessing and uncertainty waste time.

Fourth on the list is lab control, but I’d prefer to call it oversight. Here, the manager takes an active role in engaging with employees and their respective projects to ensure that work is on track and correct. Research experience is a vital component here as part of oversight includes the ability to intervene positively in work should it be, in whatever way, somewhat awry or off-base.

By implementing the above four practices in the lab setting, a manager will be empowered to plan projects properly, increase efficiency through correct organisation, lead individual team members to collective success and ensure that best practices are being used to produce the best possible results.