When young scientists start thinking about leading a research group, they feel overwhelmed by the number of transferable skills they have to learn for a career in science. There is now considerable agreement that young scientists should develop their leadership skills for a career in science. It is crucial to understand which skills are essential and where to begin.

Thanks to Yves Soen, former HR manager at Hasselt University, we have developed the following list of skills. This list serves as a map of which skills are essential to becoming a successful group leader in science. We think that these skills are important for most positions in academia, industry, and the public sector:

After extensive discussions with other colleagues, we would like to suggest following the two lists of skills for a science career outlined below:

Basic leadership skills for a career in science Advanced leadership skills for a career in science
  • Performing a SWOT analysis of yourself and your institution/company
  • Conflict management
  • Giving constructive feedback
  • Defining and communicating your vision
  • Motivating people
  • Situational leadership (Blanchard)
  • Effective communication
  • Complex project management of multiple projects
  • Intercultural leadership
  • Transformational leadership
  • Effective delegation
  • Empowerment  of staff
  • Change management & negotiating
  • Finance for non-financials
  • Effectively handling administration

The skills are in random order. Thus, they are not ranked according to importance. As expected, there was considerable debate on which skills should be termed “basic” or “advanced” for a science career. We suggest starting with the list in the first column because you need some knowledge and experience with these skills before learning the more complex ones in the second column. Performing a SWOT analysis of yourself and your institution to get to know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your wishes and talents, is a good start.

Reading through these lists is overwhelming for most people. It helps to keep the following points in mind:

All these skills are interrelated

The good news is: When you develop one of these skills, the others usually follow suit. For example, developing communication skills typically also improves conflict management and communication of your vision (if you have one). Learning effective delegation may also increase the motivation of your group members and enhance the management of multiple projects.

Learning these skills never ends DURING A CAREER IN SCIENCE

Understanding that all these skills must be developed for the rest of your science career is crucial. No intelligent person would claim, “I have learned enough about communication skills” or “I finished studying complex project management.  I do not have to learn anymore.” Thus, learning these skills will continue as long as you are in a work environment – but you also have a lot of time to develop expertise.

All these skills should be trained routinely and systematically FOR A SCIENCE CAREER

To learn continuously, it is important to practice these skills regularly – for example, by following a course every 2 or 6 months. You can do this in person or online. Many institutions and companies offer courses for staff members regularly. The two lists above may also help you develop a systematic approach because there is a certain probability that you neglect important skills outside of your comfort zone. It is always a good idea to focus on your strengths. However, quite often, a course can be an eye-opener to discover new strengths even in contexts that are out of your comfort zone. Therefore, you should attempt to learn and develop each skill on the above lists sooner or later.

Please help us to improve this ‘map’ for young researchers and leave a comment below. What do you think about these two lists, and which additional skills for a career in science should be included?

Please tell us what you think and add a comment below.

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