Foundations for research leadership

Woman speaking to a table of people on left hand side and a green block of text "leadership foundation"PhD blog leadership foundations for leadership


The journey from an early career researcher to a future research leader is a transformative one. Research leadership requires deep technical expertise, and also a range of what are often called “soft skills”. I prefer to call these shift skills. These represent your know-how in creating transformation and being in control of the environments in which you find yourself. Importantly they help you interact effectively with others. The basis for developing a great set of Shift Skills is a deep understanding of yourself.  

This blog explores the foundations for future leaders in a research environment, and how these are covered in the Katalytik workshop. 

In the 21st century, the emphasis is on research that addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals and inclusive work practices to build high-performing teams. Being aware of these as your professional research career develops means when you start looking for your next career step you will be able to present as an engaging and knowledgeable individual.  

Here are six steps in which you can deepen the learning during your research. These are covered during Katalytik Phd professional skills workshops.

Six steps to develop as a research leader


1.    Self-awareness

The first step towards effective leadership is self-awareness. By understanding your unique strengths, you can unlock your potential and perform to the best of your ability. Over the last 15 years we’ve found CliftonStrengths, (an online assessment), to give a useable, research-based language, that informs Indvidual’s with how they think, feel, get things done, and energize others. This vocabulary has resonated deeply with the post-doc and doctoral researchers we have worked with at various universities. It allows researchers to articulate their passions and motivations, setting the stage for personal growth and development.  

We use this tool in energising and fun-filled workshops to have conversations around supervisors, well-being, conflict, and understanding what leadership is about.  


2.    Managing your supervisor

Navigating the dynamics with your supervisor is a crucial aspect of your research journey. The Katalytik workshop provides strategies to build partnerships and manage relationships effectively. It emphasizes the importance of open communication and conflict resolution, enabling researchers to address individual challenges they face. And through a CliftonStrengths lens learn how to be a motivated and responsive researcher. 


3.    Communication and conflict appreciation

Effective communication is key to any successful research career. And knowing when communication has occurred will set you up to be a great colleague, manager, and leader. The workshop focuses on strengthening listening skills, an often-overlooked aspect of communication. Building stronger relationships through trust and active listening, researchers can foster a positive research culture. Creating more opportunities to effective partnerships and collaboration


4.   Proactive research leadership

The workshop introduces participants to proactive research leadership. It encourages researchers to take initiative and responsibility for their actions. This approach empowers researchers to set goals, overcome blocks, and manage their wellbeing, all of which are essential for a successful research career. 


5.    Building positive research cultures 

A positive research culture is the bedrock of collaborative and productive research. The workshop emphasizes the importance of confidence, credibility, and collaboration in building such a culture. It provides strategies for researchers to contribute positively to their research environments. Becoming familiar with the Johari Window and using it to deepen trust with colleagues, we find, is the essence of a high-performing team


6.   Inclusive research leadership 

Inclusive leadership is a critical aspect of research leadership. An inclusive leader values diverse perspectives and experiences, creating an environment of psychological safety where everyone feels valued and heard. This inclusivity leads to richer ideas, more robust research, and a more harmonious team dynamic. The workshop underscores the importance of inclusivity in research leadership, providing strategies for researchers to cultivate inclusivity in their research environments. Importantly, when trust deepens, a team can begin to have healthy conflict and robust discussions in safety. 



By the end of the workshop, participants will not only be buzzing with ideas and positivity, but they will also have a personal action plan with goals to guide their way. They will gain a greater understanding of their motivations and learn strategies to build partnerships. Most importantly, they will be equipped with the skills to manage their well-being, a critical aspect often overlooked in the pursuit of research excellence. 

In conclusion, this workshop provides a comprehensive foundation for early career researchers aspiring to become future research leaders. It goes beyond technical skills, focusing on personal development and soft skills that are crucial for leadership. With these tools, researchers will be well on their way to leading successful research careers. 

A one-day workshop, facilitated by Jan Peters, a certified CliftonStrengths coach, equips PhD and early career researchers with the foundation they need to succeed in research careers. This one-day is part of a series of professional development sessions offered across a PhD. 

    Your Name (required)

    Your Email (required)


    Your Message