How Can I Build Management Skills Early in My Career?

Develop these skills now to prepare for the challenges of the next stage
Industry Matters Newsletter
Rich Uriarte, ACS Career Consultant
Rich Uriarte, ACS Career Consultant

Management skills in industrial positions are important whether you are considering becoming a manager, a team leader, or a high-level technical contributor. An individual in each of these areas usually needs similar skills to be effective in their respective positions.   

Communication is one of the first skills that people need to develop and hone from the first days of joining a company. It is important to develop a strategy on multiple communication areas like public speaking, active listening, and asking for feedback. The common thread of building these skills is practice, practice, and practice. The more you do it, the more you feel comfortable and the better you get.   

Planning, problem solving, and strategic thinking are other areas that should be developed early in a career. Thinking and communicating about how to attack a problem or how to best solve it are skills that will be used at all levels within a company. If your company offers training courses in these skill areas, you should consider attending. If not, there are many options for courses available externally. Even if you think you are well versed in these skills, there are always many good takeaways that you get from them. 

Most of us are trained in problem solving in graduate school, but the softer skills around formal communication, strategy and planning, and people skills are emphasized less. Thinking about these and developing a plan based on feedback and experience will help you build skills that will make you a more productive and valued employee. 

Todd Alam, Department of Organic Materials Science, Sandia National Laboratories
Todd Alam, Department of Organic Materials Science, Sandia National Laboratories

Broadcast your desire for more responsibility and opportunities to build your management skills with your direct supervisor. Even if your position does not commonly entail management responsibilities, look for opportunities that arise unexpectedly where you could take on new responsibilities – such as a new ES&H concern, a production issue, a new corporate documentation implementation or perhaps the testing of new chemical software packages.  

Be pro-active, I once had a postdoc who took the initiative and laid out research plans for a set of summer interns visiting my lab and then mentored them directly for the whole summer (that initiative was a nice surprise). Outside of work, volunteer to organize a symposium or session at a local chemistry meeting or school STEM event.  

Paul Lobben, Senior Scientist Process Chemistry, Revolution Medicines
Paul Lobben, Senior Scientist Process Chemistry, Revolution Medicines

Early in your career you may not have direct management responsibility of others. However, you may take on other departmental responsibilities to develop management skills. With these responsibilities you want to establish desired management qualities including effective communication and listening skills, building trust, communicating a vision, and demonstrating accountability.  

These responsibilities may include recording meeting minutes, participating in recruiting new employees, mentoring new employees, authoring work instructions and standard operation procedures, leading a monthly discussion group, proposing new technology and software, and hosting invited seminar speakers. 

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

ACS Career Consultants are experts and leaders working in the field of chemistry who have volunteered to support other ACS members’ career development through one-on-one career counselling. They can stimulate your thinking, ask important career planning questions to help clarify goals, provide encouragement, teach strategies for making meaningful career decisions, and aid you in your job search. Connect with an ACS Career Consultant today!

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