High-Impact Leadership for Forensic Laboratory Professionals

Are you in a leadership role in a high-stakes occupation, such as forensic science? Would you like to learn how to think like an HR manager, or be able to lower anxiety and raise morale among employees and maximize employee performance with minimal effort?

In his workshop at ISHI 29, John Collins, author of HR Management in the Forensic Science Laboratory: A 21st Century Approach to Effective Crime Lab Leadership, will help you thrive in your leadership role, and help you learn how to build a culture in your lab that thrives in spite of scarce resources.

We recently interviewed John, and he shares why he chose to write his recent book, what challenges exist in a forensic science environment, the most important qualities of a good leader, and how a natural introvert can learn to be an “extroverted leader.”



Hi John, first I’d like to congratulate you on the upcoming release of your new book, HR Management in the Forensic Science Laboratory: A 21st Century Approach to Effective Crime Lab Leadership.  The book is scheduled for release in late February and I’m sure it will be a valuable resource for those who are in management positions in the forensics industry.

Well, thank you, I appreciate that.  It’s really exciting to see the book finally come to fruition.  I’m not sure I’ve ever put my heart and soul into a project quite like I did for this book.  There is no doubt that it will be a great resource for anyone interested in the administration of modern forensic laboratories.  


Can you tell me why you decided to write this book and who you think will benefit most from reading it?

I had two primary goals in mind when I first began the project. First, I wanted to introduce forensic science leaders to some key principles of contemporary organizational management, including HR.  Unfortunately, too many forensic science laboratories have poor HR support, so directors and supervisors have to compensate.  This book will help them fill that void, while also helping them think differently about crime lab leadership and being aware of some very effective strategies that are available to them.

Second, I wanted to introduce the profession of forensic science to HR staff and other administrators and support personnel who do not have a forensic science background, but play a key role in the management and operations of a laboratory.  


What challenges are specific to management in a forensic laboratory compared to other industries?

That is a great question but an easy one to answer.  It is a singularly unique challenge to function as scientific professionals in an environment that is dominated by police and lawyers.  Also, the taxpayers that fund public forensic science laboratories are not keen on spending money to respond to crime, they want to spend money preventing crime.  Although forensic science is remarkably complex and holds tremendous responsibilities in the administration of justice, it is an ongoing battle to secure the resources we need to maintain sufficient quality and capacity.  And as you may have guessed, the operation of forensic laboratories in police agencies creates very real challenges that require specific strategies to manage properly. This is something I am going to discuss at length in my workshop.


What resources are available to someone newly assigned to a management role in a forensic laboratory?  Can you comment on standardization of training for new managers; for example, are there common core competencies that are required in order to be promoted to a leadership position in US labs?

There’s many resources available such as leadership workshops and training schools that are available for developing one’s leadership skills.  These are available both within and outside of the forensic community.  There are no hard-and-fast standards, and it depends on the agency and the jurisdiction in which the person is promoted that determines what compensation and qualifications are appropriate.  There is no one-size-fits-all standard.  As a coach who works individually with forensic scientists and forensic managers, I’ve come to appreciate that the power of professional coaching in accelerating the development of professionalism and leadership talent is unsurpassed.  Everyone has their own personal backgrounds, life experiences, and all the baggage that comes with them.  Coaching exposes people to mentored learning that is customized for their personal needs and to overcome their own personal weaknesses, which we all have.


Your new book has a chapter intriguingly titled, “From Introverted Scientist to Extroverted Leader”. In my experience, many forensic scientists would self-identify as introverted.  Is it really possible to transform a natural introvert to an extrovert?  What steps do you prescribe to move someone from “introverted scientist” to “extroverted leader”?

It’s always possible, but not always achieved.  Yes, I’ve been amazed by how pervasive introversion is among forensic laboratory scientists, which I cover in some of my workshops.  I think it’s a primary reason that we’ve been so ineffective at defending ourselves from some unfair attacks or responding competently to legitimate ones.  But the transition from introverted scientist to extroverted leader is a goal, of sorts.  We tend to develop only those skills that we need to survive or function in whatever environment we are in.  It is not necessary to be extroverted to be a great leader, and introversion is not bad.  But an introvert can build much stronger social skills by simply injecting themselves in more situations in which social skills are necessary.  Leadership responsibilities and exposure to social situations tend to do this over time.  As a person is forced to develop more social intelligence, they will tend to enjoy people more and, therefore, become more extroverted in various situations.  But extroverts have a lot to learn too.  Few things are more socially awkward than an strong extrovert who sucks all the air out of the room and can’t be quiet and listen to others.  To me, that is just as socially inept as an extreme introvert who doesn’t talk at all. 


What are the most important qualities that are common to good leaders? Can these qualities be learned or are they innate?

Another great question.  I really believe that good leaders are able to read people and situations and make smart choices about what they say and do.  This means that great leadership is often done with one’s mouth closed, assessing situations and attitudes and then deciding, when the time is right, what needs to be said or done.  When it is necessary for a leader to be vocal, I have found that the expressions of a leader are often best shared as part of a conversation rather than a directive.  Although this may sound humorous, people who’ve worked along side me while I was serving in a leadership capacity sometimes thought of me as a sort of talkshow host and, quite frankly, I felt like one.  It was always more important for me to facilitate conversations and ask good questions because it was through good conversation that solutions to problems arise on their own.  And by joining with employees in good conversation, leaders make themselves accessible in an environment where people learn to listen to each other and respect each other.  It also helps develop social skills and critical thinking habits.  Employees who work for dictatorial or controlling managers have little incentive to learn and grow.


I’m excited that you’ve agreed to teach the workshop on “High-Impact Leadership for Forensic Laboratory Professionals” in conjunction with the 29th International Symposium on Human Identification in Phoenix this September.  Who is the ideal candidate to attend the workshop?  What will they learn from attending?

I am excited too. This will be a workshop for persons working in forensic science laboratories who are in leadership positions or who want to develop leadership skills.  I have come to believe that you don’t have to be a naturally gifted leader to provide great leadership.  Often, providing great leadership is just a matter of getting out of the way and learning to facilitate progress through collaboration and a bit of planning.  I am going to talk about things I learned in writing my book, and I am going share very specific strategies for what forensic laboratory leaders can do to be more effective.  The great thing is that these strategies don’t necessarily require any special talents or skills.