Leadership inspires us with vision. Management delivers that vision.

In a research group or small technical start-up often people are called to be both. There just aren’t enough people to split the roles. And couple in the fact that you got to this space by being great at science or technology (not management). That’s why I work with one of my university clients on preparing postdocs to manage a research group. And we do the management bit first because this is where people get really worried. The raft of “what if…” questions keep coming on these events. If only people were as easy as science. Or robots.


So which came first …

Successful technical people will end up being managers but often have reached that without having management on their CV. But we might well be asked about it at interview. Our interview panel know we will need those skills. We might stumble for answers at this point. It can hold us back career wise, so how to build up experience?

My experience working with new technical leaders / managers and those preparing for these positions tells me one thing. Confidence is key. Sounds trite? Bear with me …



Stuff you already have.

Chances are you already have some management experience! Critically look back on your work life to date. We have not been labelled a manager but have informally done the role – often really well! This is still experience. Examples of ‘day to day’ management experience could be:

  • A postdoc who has guided a PhD or masters student
  • Working closely with technician on a project
  • Co-ordinating team members in a collaboration
  • Training and developing support staff

You may well have plenty of experience in management form outside work. Time to think laterally about the definition of management

1. the process of dealing with or controlling things or people. “the management of the economy”

Some examples to consider from your personal history:

  • Sporting roles (team captain, coach, secretary)
  • Youth work of all sorts – just because its kids doesn’t mean it’s not management
  • Societies / hobbies where you have had to organise people
  • Charity events or fundraising


Stuff that will develop.

Build your management experience. Look for opportunities to build experience and then don’t be afraid to ask. Your manager will probably thank you! Could you manage an administrator or technician at work? Saving your boss’s time and getting experience. Could you work as a project co-ordinator managing people or even teams? Could you organise an event where you are the chair / co-ordinator of the committee? In all of these you are looking for experiences which you could learn from. Imagine answering the question “So what management experience do you have?”.

Get informed! Reading management books is a great start – even (or perhaps especially) if you disagree with them. You are developing your thoughts on how you would like to manage. Studying online through such systems as LinkedIn Learning can allow you to talk meaningfully when asked ‘what type of manager would you be?’. Video can be a great way to learn through TED talks and webinars. Much of this material is free. Podcasts are increasingly influential in how people learn and can easily be fitted into a commute.


Above all whether it is chicken or egg – you need to reflect. What does this mean for you? You will have your own unique personality and set of experiences operating in a specific situation. A good manager is one who takes time out to learn from everything.

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