The Importance of Leadership Training in the Forensic Field

Laboratory management is a responsibility for which many forensic professionals are not fully prepared. Management and leadership education that is targeted specifically to forensic professionals is crucial to better equip forensic managers to succeed in the complex environment of a crime laboratory.



Written by: Martina Bison‐Huckaby, Director of the Center for Executive Education at West Virginia University



A crime laboratory sits at the intersection between science and business, yet while the majority of forensic managers have had adequate technical training, they often have not had the opportunity to undergo formal management and business training. This challenge was recognized by the National Institute of Justice, in a report on the industry published in 1999 (Forensic Science: Review of Status and Needs) where it was specifically noted that every crime laboratory manager should have the opportunity to undergo formal management training and specifically in the areas of Fiscal management, Quality System management, Project Management, Human Resources Management and Customer Service.  (1)  Dale and Becker also reported in 2003 when talking about forensic laboratories “Frequently managers have good technical skills, but lack good interpersonal and leadership skills.” They called for training in basic supervisory and interpersonal skills for managers to avoid a ripple effect throughout the organization causing lower motivation and the loss of good employees” (2)

In addition, managers of crime laboratories are often promoted from within the organization for their proficiency in their technical skills, without undergoing a transition process, or a succession plan to prepare them for their new position, leaving it up to them to learn several aspects of their job on the fly. It is anticipated that this problem will be compounded in the next few years, by the mass retirement of the baby boomers that are still in the workforce, which will leave several managerial positions vacant in the industry.



Ideally, emerging leaders of crime laboratory would be identified early on in their careers with a succession planning process, and would have the opportunity to complement their technical education with the completion of some targeted management/business training. In addition, they should have the opportunity to work in conjunction with the manager they will be replacing for a few months, and thus learn the specifics of their new job.

One option would be for emerging leaders to obtain a management/business degree such as an MBA. Most accredited universities now offer part time and online options, making it possible to obtain the degree without having to interrupt their employment. This, however, in addition to representing a significant investment in time and money, would teach a set of general skills and knowledge that are not specifically designed for managers of scientific laboratories and are, in some respects, not specifically relevant.

A more cost effective and targeted solution to this challenge would be attending a training program for emerging leaders in the forensic field, that is shorter and more specifically relevant to the industry and that brings together other forensic leaders from different geographical areas. This model, besides being more practical, applicable and cost effective, it also has the added benefit of creating a network of industry resources among the program participants.

Another solution to this challenge is for the forensic laboratory to take a proactive approach, and offer training programs at their agency specifically for their forensic managers. These programs can be designed in house, if the resources are available, or by partnering with an outside organization, such as a university. While this option does not allow for networking across agencies, it has the added benefit of creating an alignment within the organization and a more customized training which specifically addresses the agencies’ needs.



Recognizing this need and challenge, and with the support of a grant from the National Institute of Justice, the WVU Center for Executive Education developed a series of short, practical, leadership training modules specifically for forensic managers and supervisors including the week‐long Forensic Management Academy ™(FMA). This program addresses the needed industry‐specific management competencies and skills such as: leadership, change management, team building, conflict management, communication, performance management, succession planning, budgeting, project management, process improvement, cost benefit analysis, among other supervisory skills.

The FMA program has been offered yearly since 2007 and now has 150 alumni from 42 US States, Puerto Rico,

Canada as well as some international participants. In addition, various crime laboratories across the United States have sought out the expertise of the Center by bringing custom versions of the FMA on site for their employees. Recently, excerpts from the program were offered for the Texas Forensic Science Committee, the Michigan State Police, the New York State Police, the Forensic Sciences Division of the Maryland State Police, the Forensic Sciences Division of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, among others. The next offering of the program will be held in Morgantown, WV on September 13‐18. More information can be found on the website:



Leaders of every crime laboratory are presented with two common challenges: dealing with change and putting together and managing a team. Participants of the October ISHI conference will have the exclusive opportunity of attending two seminars from one of the highly skilled instructors from the FMA, Dr. Joyce Heames (Associate Dean of the WVU College of Business and Economics). These seminars will address both of these common leadership challenges.

The first, which is titled Managing Change, will address all three aspects of managing change: personal change, group change and organizational change. Further, there will be a class exercise based on the book “Who Moved My Cheese” (provided at the seminar) which will address creating strategic plans to remove obstacles to change.  In addition, participants will take the “Change Management Skill Assessment” instrument which will give them insight on their personal change readiness.

The second seminar, titled Leading High Performance Teams, will be an excerpt from the FMA. Through the inventory “Team Dimensions Profile” participants will identify their most natural team role and they will also understand the characteristics and contributions of others. They will also learn the ideal team decision making process, a process whereby each team members’ strength can be leveraged for the overall team success.