Scientist to manager: What’s the big deal?

It’s one of those tricky issues that organisations across the pharmaceutical sector face frequently: how do we bridge the gap in skills that are needed for top scientists to become effective managers?

Organisations need to recognise that, in many cases, the attributes that make a scientist exemplary in their field can be very different to the skills that are needed to effectively manage and motivate others. It therefore takes careful planning and plenty of support to ensure this transition from one role to another is carried out as smoothly as possible.

Different challenges for individuals to face

One of the first things organisations need to be aware of when promoting from within is the fact that the positions of team member and team leader require very different skill sets to perform in an optimal manner.

What makes a scientist excellent in their role is their attention to detail, a meticulous approach to collating and interpreting data, and their ability to envision the minutiae of interactions and understand what is happening within their experiments at the smallest level.

In comparison, a manager needs to be able to draw on very different skills in order to not only perform at their peak, but also to motivate those around them to do the same. For this reason, a manager should to be someone who can balance the detailed picture with the ability to maintain a broader perspective, and this is not something that comes easily to everyone.

It is about achieving an equilibrium between technical expertise and the strong interpersonal skills and vision that makes the best managers stand out from their peers.

A ‘double whammy’ when things go wrong

Failure to properly prepare and support scientists through their transition to becoming effective team leaders runs the risk of not only causing unrest within a business, but arguably it can lead to a situation where their skills are not being fully utilised.

What is the point in promoting an expert in his/her field into a position of managing others if they do not have the right skills to get the most out of those who report to them? Indeed, businesses run the risk of not only de-motivating their best scientists by giving them tasks they are not suited to deliver, but they may also have a situation where they now have on their hands an under-performing scientist and an even worse team leader.

It is a problem that many organisations now face, not just those in the pharmaceutical or engineering fields either, but across the whole spectrum of industry. In many organisations, technical experts find that the only way to achieve personal advancement, improved levels of remuneration and responsibility is to take on a role involving people-management: this, however, may not play to their strengths and may not be the best way to get the most out of staff.

Promoting a scientist into a management position not suited to them fails both the individual and those they will be supervising. It is for this reason that support at every stage of an individual’s career is essential to prepare them for future responsibilities.

Investment in the future of your business

Some of the most enlightened organisations out there already recognise that in order to provide the best chances of success for their staff in bridging that gap from scientist to manager, they have to invest early in effective training and learning and development programmes.

By focusing on supporting scientists in their shift to managerial duties, the benefits to businesses cannot be underestimated. Through processes including self-awareness and personal development workshops, mentoring schemes and the reinforcement of company values, individuals can rise to the challenge of leadership with a far greater likelihood of success.

Planning for the future is something that all enlightened organisations take incredibly seriously and by supporting their staff through enhanced learning and development, this is something that can be placed at the very core of professional development from the outset.

Corporate culture also plays an important function in ensuring managers are able to perform at their best, as by focusing on the basic elements of what it means to be a part of the larger whole, top scientists can gain insight into the approaches needed to provide motivation and inspiration to their peers.

This ensures improved interactions within teams and enables organisations to get the best from their staff, while at the same time tackling any toxic behaviours that could otherwise get in the way of effective team performance.

There is an imperative on organisations to retain great scientists, while at the same time developing the next generation of strong leaders. This means supporting staff in their professional development and helping to align their vision and values to that of the business as a whole.

When this is done well it can act as a major boost to productivity, performance and organisational reputation, serving to stand companies in the best possible stead to reap the rewards of strong leadership both now and in the future.

To find out more about the importance of ensuring staff are best supported in their shift from team member to team leader, read ‘Create the right talent culture for smooth leadership transitions‘.

  • David Evans, head of consulting at Primeast