Leading Your Scientists and Engineers 2002: Leadership Skills, Business Knowledge and Other Non-Technical Abilities Have Become Increasingly Important since RTM's 1988 Survey. Ten Areas Are Highlighted

By Farris, George F.; Cordero, Rene | Research-Technology Management, November-December 2002 | Go to article overview

Leading Your Scientists and Engineers 2002: Leadership Skills, Business Knowledge and Other Non-Technical Abilities Have Become Increasingly Important since RTM's 1988 Survey. Ten Areas Are Highlighted


Farris, George F., Cordero, Rene, Research-Technology Management


The management of scientists and engineers has been a subject of study for several decades. Scores of papers have been written about ways to increase their performance, satisfaction and retention. In a 1988 article in Research * Technology Management, Badawy reviewed the literature and summarized what was known then about managing scientists and engineers (1).

While much about doing R&D has remained the same since then, much has also changed. Today, as then, scientists and engineers are doing work that is essentially technical. They are still asked to solve problems, find information, and discover relationships among phenomena that may lead to the development of new products, services and processes. Today, however, the R&D business environment is more competitive and complex. Strategic shifts have led to more emphasis on development and less on research. Time-to-market is more critical than before, so project cycle time reduction is critical. Structural shifts have led to relatively less effort on internal R&D and more on alliances, outsourcing and partnerships. Intellectual property is increasingly being treated as a core competency. New computer and telecommunications technologies facilitate work. Teamwork has become widespread. Emphasis has changed from commanding and controlling people to leading them. The diversity of the technical workforce has increased significantly. Scientists and engineers are more likely to experience tensions between work and family life.

This article reviews the literature since 1988 on managing scientists and engineers. After explaining our approach to reviewing that literature, we begin with the four areas identified by Badawy: human resources planning, rewarding scientists and engineers, appraising the performance of scientists and engineers, and career management. Then, we review work on the six important new topics: cross-functional teams, leading scientists and engineers, knowledge management, demographic diversity, electronic technology, and outsourcing. We shall conclude with the implications of the review for scientists, engineers and their managers, and recommend actions (summarized in Table 2) for leading scientists and engineers in today's business environment. For readers seeking a quick overview, Table 1 summarizes what the 102 studies we identified suggest is new in the 10 topical areas.

Trends in the Literature

We began our review of the literature by using Proquest Direct, a comprehensive computerized database of business and management journals, to search on key phrases such as "managing technical professionals," "outsourcing and R&D," "flexible workers and R&D," and "turnover and R&D." In addition, we contacted several researchers active in the field for a list of their recent articles.

This effort identified 102 articles, which we classified as either "conceptual" (focusing on a presentation of ideas relevant to the management of scientists and engineers), "empirical" (reporting a statistical study in which data were collected to test hypotheses or answer research questions), or "anecdotal" (describing case examples of efforts in individual companies related to the management of scientists and engineers). Thirty-four percent of the studies were conceptual, 47 percent were empirical, and 19 percent were anecdotal.

We then divided the studies according to the date of publication to see if there were any trends in the types of studies over time. We created three time periods: 1988-1992, 1993-1997, and 1998-2002 and charted the number of each kind of study published during that period. Results are shown in the graph, page 14. While the conceptual and empirical studies increased steadily during the 1988-2002 period, the number of anecdotal studies was relatively low through 1997 and then increased dramatically during the last five years. We attribute this increase to a relatively large number of anecdotal studies about the new developments in managing scientists and engineers. …

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