I made the move from bench scientist to technical supervisor almost four years ago. While I expected to be unfamiliar with certain aspects of the position, I found I was actually minimally prepared for a few of the key responsibilities of the position. I’m going to highlight the top four areas I felt least prepared for and provide you some tips on how to ease the transition.
Financial Responsibility I remember the first time I sat in a management meeting as a new supervisor and the discussion turned to departmental budgets. Suddenly, my department’s current finances were put on display for everyone and I was accountable for those numbers. The level to which finances fall into your lap can vary between labs, but I would at least expect to be reviewing monthly expense reports, projecting volumes and revenue, and explaining variances. So, what did I do to get comfortable with all this? Following that meeting, I met with my manager and explained my current level of knowledge with finance. She met with me a few different times and we went through reports together. Knowing that I could ask her for guidance about the financial reports was immensely helpful. If you will be moving to a supervisory position from working the bench, I highly suggest being honest about your background and asking for help with the things you don’t fully understand. You’ll likely be surprised at how willing others are to assist you in your learning.
Statistical Analysis As a technical supervisor, you will live in the world of statistics. It is ideal to have a solid understanding of Westgard rules as well as how to calculate means, standard deviations, and coefficients of variation. It’s also helpful to understand the concepts behind the standard deviation index (SDI) and the coefficient of variation index (CDI), as these will be measures you use when comparing your performance to other labs using the same instrumentation. Most of the programs for peer review will crunch the data for you, but without knowing what those numbers measure, that data is meaningless. I suggest reaching out to a current supervisor and asking for examples of peer review reports that you can glance at. Ask them to explain their QC review process and take note of the statistical measures you are unfamiliar with. Doing some reading up on Westgard rules wouldn’t hurt either.
Managing Time My position as a supervisor did not take me away from bench duties, and it seems this is the growing trend in many laboratories. Most weeks, I spend about 75 percent of my time covering the bench performing patient testing. While I do believe it’s important for a leader to be involved in all the processes they manage, it certainly does pose unique challenges for keeping up. The only way to survive in the chaos and be successful is to learn to manage your time effectively. I have improved with this by keeping a “task list” of all the CAP requirements that need to be completed during the year (such as semi-annual calibrations, correlations, etc.). I also use the calendar in my work email to schedule out my desk days so that I stay on point. I ask for delivery confirmations on all our departmental standing orders and mark these anticipated deliveries in my calendar so I know when to expect them. I’ve also learned some unexpected things when it comes to time management – how to delegate, and I still need to get better at this.
Managing People Managing people can be one of the most challenging parts of being a leader, but it can also be the most rewarding. A change in leadership can be very disruptive to your employees, so reaching out and asking them for their support may help keep the team cohesive. Expect that people may come to you with challenges, roadblocks, or conflicts and already have suggestions for improvement. Also, expect that people may come to you with those same challenges and resist being part of the solution. There will be times when you need to have a crucial conversation with someone that can be awkward and intimidating. If you’re a younger leader, some people may not take you seriously and this might leave you questioning your own abilities. My advice? Utilize any leadership programs or courses that your employer offers in terms of communication, diversity, compliance, and accountability. Schedule time to meet with your employees monthly to discuss wins and process improvements. Go into this with some thick skin and realize that you won’t have all the answers – and that’s ok.
Becoming a laboratory leader brings many opportunities for personal and professional growth. While most of us are inadequately prepared to do our best when we step into these positions, it certainly doesn’t mean we can’t be effective. Taking the time to reach out to others with experience and study the topics where you need to grow will go a long way toIf you have any advice or tips for those who may be moving from bench to leadership, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comments section below.
Kristen Holshoe, BS, MLS (ASCP)
Kristen Holshoe is the Hematology/Coagulation laboratory supervisor at a northwest Michigan hospital. As is evident in her quality of work, she is proud to be a valuable part of the healthcare team performing complex testing as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist.
With 13 years of experience in the field, Kristen is passionate about promoting her profession through education and networking in an effort to make the career more “visible” Find Kristen on LinkedIn.