Talent Management

Recruiting and ­Promoting Talent in Science Administration

Science is not created in a vacuum, quite the contrary: Funds have to be acquired and managed; laboratories must be operated and services organized; scientists and specialists in various fields have to be recruited and hired. Only if the framework conditions are suitable, can researchers utilize their capabilities in an optimal way. That is why efficient management is needed. “In a research center such as ours, the administration must navigate between world-class science with high dynamics on the one hand and the relatively rigid requirements of the public service sector on the other,” said Uwe Bott, who heads Human Resources Development at Helmholtz Zentrum München. Both sides have to be taken into account: the researchers who want to remain as flexible as possible and who want to avoid spending too much time on administrative tasks, and the administrators who often must comply with rigid official structures and who are not particularly well paid.

However, to be successful in international competition, new processes and structures must be developed, and there is a special need for science managers who are keen in solving very specific problems in this area. “At Helmholtz Zentrum München we have established a number of options in which employees can take part in continuing education and training courses and develop further in this area,” said Bott. “We offer around 150 Center-internal training events, which in part are intensive courses on management topics such as scientific project management. There are also seminars and workshops in which employees acquire specific knowledge and skills and practice the transfer of learning objectives into daily work. Our center also participates in the Helmholtz Management Academy, whose purpose is to promote under­standing between science and the administration. In addition, we have intensified our cooperation with the Center for Science Management (ZWM) Speyer; since October, five of our employees have been participating in the one-year program ‘Munich Leadership Development in Science’. It is aimed at academic and administrative leaders from universities and research institutions in the Munich region, who already have or will soon have budget and staff responsibility.”

One of the participants of the course, Barbara Ferwagner, has been working since March in the Department of Operations & Support. In her previous positions at Helmholtz Zentrum München she was able to gain experience in a number of different areas. “In order to qualify for leader­ship roles, it is necessary to step out once from the microcosm of one’s own center and to discuss similar issues with colleagues from other academic institutions,” she said. “There are so many different cultures and ways of organizing science administration. This exchange with other colleagues represents a great added value of the program.” In principle, the challenges are always the same: leading people, managing resources,
developing strategies, communicating and implementing, balancing interests, organizing majorities, making and carrying out decisions. The day to day work requires from leaders a wide range of management skills and the ability to relate these to the special characteristics of science management. The ZWM program therefore offers modules on leadership and self-leadership, project management, budgeting, and employee motivation, among other topics. Barbara
Ferwagner finds the concept of the course convincing, since the basic principles of a variety of skills are taught.

In addition to the qualification in management responsibilities, her colleague Theresia Schmitt, who has been working as project coordinator since 2011 in the Department of Operations and Support, sees a significant added value of the ZWM program in building networks at the science location Munich. Her supervisor recommended her for the program and – just as for Barbara Ferwagner – Helmholtz Zentrum München assumes the costs; the participants themselves must devote the necessary time by means of holidays or flextime. The thirty-two year-old business graduate with a specialization in health economics likes the interdisciplinary work: “In science management at our center many aspects intertwine: business administration, medical and legal topics as well as topics of company consulting such as process optimization or organizational structures. That is exciting and varied. Every day you can deal with something new, which is why the training course must cover many aspects.” Her goal is to make it as easy as possible for the scientists and to largely relieve them of administrative duties. “We are establishing a new adminis­tra­tive structure at Helmholtz Zentrum München for this purpose to ensure that each institute has a primary contact person who coordinates all the further details.”

Uwe Bott underlines how important it is to have transparent processes and to avoid having different people responsible for the same topics. “That is why good science managers are so essential,” he said. “The four aspects – professionalism, leadership and management skills as well as social competence – must be covered already in the training phase. Once this requirement profile is clearly defined, it is easier to select the appropriate executives and to give them systematic training.”