Last week, I met an interesting person who was the “managing
director’ of a research center. We spoke several times over
a few days and I came to learn she was only in the role for
a couple of months.
She spoke of having explored various roles following her PhD
as a post-doc and as a technical expert consultant for a consulting
firm. Now, and in this role, she was getting experience as a
More than one PhD graduate has described their goal to be a
manager. So there might be something to learn from this case.
Over our time, I devoted my attention to listening rather
than “advising.” As we know, the strongest attribute of a manager is
to be a great listener and motivator. So, at times where I did probe,
it was to find out fundamental motivations. It appeared to be freedom
to choose where to work, move when she wanted and build
a productive “empire.” That is what she felt her position offered.
She also seemed to like to believe managers could ‘direct’
rather than ‘enable’ research. Not everyone has the skills and
attributes to be a good manager. Scientists and engineers see
this as a possible track for career growth. It may on the other
hand lead to anxiety and unanticipated pressure.
If I had more time to discuss management with her I would
offer thoughts like Al Sklover offered. In addition to my
top three from Al’s list, I would add one.
Let me highlight top three tips for technical management for me:
(1) Provide equal opportunities to prosper and grow, and
equal accountability when mistakes or malfeasance occur.
(2) Co-create with each group member achievable goals establishing
direction and priority. Create feedback loops so that there are
(3) Continue to develop increasing competences and
professional skills to assume responsibility so that people feel
there is something in it for them.
In addition, it is important to
(4) scrutinize information and be cautious about making
pronouncements without due diligence and checking the
So often I have seen middle managers take
orders to do something that was wrong, even scandalous,
yet they did it. The people instigating it may have personal
advantage as their sole intent.
These are the kinds of points that might be part of a management