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How leaders manage successful research collaborations

How leaders run collaborations

Collaborative projects are complex and challenging and weak leadership can jeopardize their success. Here we take a closer look at the leadership advice shared by two of our ‘Effective collaboration in research’ course experts, Tulika Bose and Malcolm Skingle. 

Good leadership is crucial for success

Poor leadership can demotivate participants and cause them to disengage from the team and project. 

Without a good leader, collaborations are rarely successful. There are very few collaborations that are really run by consensus, even though I think that would be ideal.” Tulika Bose, Professor of Physics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Collaborations bring together individuals who want the same results from projects, but often goals can diverge as the project evolves. This can raise tensions and cause unrealistic expectations. Be careful when your leadership team is driving a project to ensure it is not derailed by the loudest voices. Always ensure you are clear on what you are trying to achieve as a team.

Good leadership in any collaboration is really, really important. It's important for a number of reasons. You will need a figurehead. That figurehead will act as a multiplier in that they attract people into their research group and their organisation.” Tulika Bose

Leaders can feel under pressure to manage every aspect of a project. You may get the impression that your reputation is on the line. This level of pressure can sometimes become overwhelming and further accentuated by unrealistic expectations from others. Remember that the most successful collaborations thrive when leaders are able to delegate tasks, fully using the expertise of other team members. 

What makes an effective research collaboration leader? 

Diplomatic and empathetic leadership can understand, listen, create the right incentives and empower people to do their best, creating a work environment where people feel appreciated and have room for ownership and growth. 

“A good leader will help everybody to stay on track and to make sure that the project does not go beyond the scope that was originally set. At the same time being open to new ideas but really keeping the big goals of the project in mind.

I believe very important traits in good leaders are peacekeeping and mediation skills, especially if you lead large international projects as there will always be differences in the consortium. And if you can keep the peace that will definitely help the research as well.” Malcolm Skingle, Director, Academic Liaison, GlaxoSmithKline

The most important traits a successful leader can demonstrate in any collaboration are openness and transparency. these are particularly vital when proposing or receiving ideas, when carrying out action plans, and when providing constructive criticism.  Nurturing these traits will minimize distrust and avoid misunderstandings within the team. When not appropriately addressed, these issues can create an unproductive work environment.

Key actions for effective leadership:

  • Create a safe, collaborative and structured environment for everyone to contribute
  • Give and receive constructive feedback 
  • Provide training and mentorship for team members
  • Understand how different skills can complement each other
  • Be transparent, respectful and flexible 
  • Keep the project focused and on track
  • Create a shared vision and a team mentality
  • Provide shared resources and ensure all parties receive fair and meaningful benefits from the project

A successful leader will bring teams together by listening, by sharing ideas, acknowledging team members for their contributions, and, importantly, steering the group in the right direction. 


Contact us to discuss how you can offer the 'Effective collaboration in research' course to your lab or university.