Understanding the challenge

Our leadership training is shaped by ongoing research that draws on hundreds of interviews and conversations with scientists, as well as the best peer-reviewed science.

We’re particularly interested in understanding and negotiating the apparent contradiction between the analytical, task-focused traits and competencies shown to be associated with success as a scientist, and the emotional intelligence and people-focused skills linked to success as a leader.

Through in-depth conversations with scientists and those they manage, we have been able to pinpoint the practical moments when this tension becomes most apparent, and have developed processes, tools and techniques to address these issues head-on.

The result is a course underpinned by a blend of research insight and deep practical knowledge that speaks directly and credibly to scientists’ experiences.

The skills gap for new STEM managers

“You spend all your time as a student and postdoctoral fellow learning how to be a good experimentalist. Then you become
an independent scientist, and if you are successful, before long you are no longer doing experiments because you don’t have
any time, and personnel management becomes a major issue.”

Robert Donns, Chair of the Department of Microbiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

The above quote comes from an article in Science that provides a neat and accessible summary of the case for management training when scientifically trained and minded people move into positions of leadership, quoting scientists and drawing on findings from researchers who have studied the issue.

Access the full article here:


A common theme in the literature focuses on the challenges faced by new STEM managers because of a lack of formal preparation for leadership during their education and early career. This thesis reports lower levels of job satisfaction across several measures for scientists with management responsiblity, and also highlights the importance of formal training in mitigating this effect and increasing scientific managers’ satisfaction in their roles:



Supporting the idea that scientific training may be leave people ill-prepared for management, this paper compares STEM manager’s self-rated competence across a range of skills to the levels of ability in the same skills they perceived as demanded in their jobs. Whilst early career scientists felt well equipped in terms of discipline specific knowledge and their abilities to gather and interpret information and manage data, their perceptions of their ability to manage others and work well in a team were significantly below what they felt they needed to do their jobs well:


Featuring our Lead Consultant, Kate Jennings, this article from Nature explores the importance of developing excellent leadership skills for ambitious scientists:


The contrasting demands of science and leadership

This paper from the Review of General Psychology describes a study of the personality factors associated with both interest and success (measured in citations/publications) in science:


Read in conjunction with this paper from the Leadership Quarterly, which contributes to the significant body of work that emphasises the role of emotional intelligence in leadership, this suggests a clear tension between the attributes of creative, productive scientists and those of a great leader or manager:


So, successful scientists tend to be task-oriented, introverted and dominant, whereas effective leadership is characterised by emotional intelligence and people orientation: Being a great scientist doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be good at helping others become great scientists too.

Yet when scientists are asked to describe the scientific leader they most admire, they are much more likely to cite compassion and managerial ability (including communication and conflict management skills) than technical brilliance:


Common development areas for STEM leaders

This study describes how scientists in managerial roles who have undertaken management training perceive higher levels of variety in their work, higher task identity and have greater belief in the significance of their work than those who have not. These elements are tied together under the heading, ‘meaningfulness at work’, a key predictor of job satisfaction:


In this article from Ecology and Evolution the focus is on one specific people-management skill – mentoring. Here evidence is presented for both the need for and impact of formal management training to help scientists mentor and coach others, and the desire for such training amongst mentors and mentees:


An important development area for many scientific leaders is around self-efficacy – building confidence in their ability to lead. Training and coaching have important roles to play here. The below studies explore the role and nature of self-efficacy in self- and group- leadership:



This paper presents evidence for how self-efficacy can be learnt, and that improvements are linked to increases in leadership ability:


And the below paper suggests a link between personality traits, self-efficacy and leadership ability, highlighting the importance of personality on leadership performance. Understanding this relationship through training and coaching provides an opportunity to develop behavioural strategies to break free of or manage our ‘default’ settings:



Particular challenges for women in STEM

Women are underrepresented in STEM leadership positions. This paper attempts to account for this fact, describing a range of processes that may be implicated in reducing women’s access to these roles. It suggests that biases and barriers exist both for women who want to embark on STEM careers and for those who aspire to leadership roles. These two sets of barriers combine to create ‘double jeopardy’ for women who wish to become leaders in STEM:


The article below, from the Journal of Leadership Studies, uses Hierarchical Logistical Modelling of survey data to compare the intrinsic leadership capabilities and leadership efficacy (i.e. confidence in own abilities) of women at the end of STEM and non-STEM university courses.

The key findings were that whilst the two groups women had equal capacity for leadership and showed similar confidence in the ability to lead at the start of their degree programmes, by the end of them the STEM women had significantly lower leadership self-confidence than the non-STEM group.

The authors hypothesise that the experience of scientific training may erode confidence in leadership compared to other disciplines. Some specific factors that can improve this outcome are also identified: