Directing a clinical laboratory is a complex job. Regulatory requirements define all areas of responsibility, but it is difficult for a lab director to get honest feedback about what traits and characteristics are really needed to succeed. We asked this question on AACC Artery and summarized the responses.

Responders pointed out that it is very important for staff to view the director as a team leader, clearly defining and overseeing the direction of the lab. The director is expected to motivate their staff and focus on goals that are important to the team, not just the individual. A lab director who is enjoying their job and having a positive attitude has a better chance of achieving this goal.

A further expectation is that the lab director is approachable and predictable in their response, even if it’s bad news. It is important for the lab director to build professional relationships with staff and carve out the time to listen to their viewpoints. Showing empathy and appreciation without coming across as condescending is very important. Adopting the “knowledgeable yet humble” mindset can help during discussions with staff. Other valuable assets are being able to collaborate, encourage questions, listen, and empower staff. It is important to patiently seek positive change and not get discouraged if things don’t go as expected. On the other hand, being able to admit if you are wrong is an asset (if it’s not overused). Everyone makes mistakes and expecting perfection from yourself or your staff will usually lead to disappointment.

While lab directors may have broader experience than lab staff, it is also important to respect individual expertise and show willingness to learn from each of your staff. This will establish trust and will allow the lab director to delegate responsibilities.

In summary, having these skills will help lab directors to better understand all aspects of lab testing. The director does not need to be the expert in everything, but they can still coach those who are. Nevertheless, the director must strike a balance between building knowledge in a multitude of lab areas without trying to do all the work themselves. Therefore, excellent organization and record keeping skills will help to stay up-to-date and recall previously made decisions. Any decisions that are made by the lab director must be well communicated to the staff.

Lastly, the director should also develop strong professional relationships within their hospital or organization as they are the voice of the lab when it comes to making larger organizational decisions. Additionally, they need to be able to see the big picture for the organization yet be detailed to understand where things may go wrong in the lab.

Arguably the toughest part of the job is to know which skills to use in different situations while balancing all the regulatory responsibilities and doing what is best for patient care. These were the most frequently mentioned qualities. A more detailed discussion on this topic is available on the AACC Artery page.