Los Alamos National Laboratory is a unique combination of corporate environment and academic research in the hard sciences. Success as a leader, therefore, entails succeeding in two separate, traditionally male-dominated communities—corporate leadership and science.
The most important factor for me has been to establish technical credentials through experience in my chosen area of research—experimental nuclear physics. Without this experience it would be very difficult to maintain the respect and credibility necessary to lead a scientific organization— or to make sound technical decisions as a leader. A key, therefore, to success in a national laboratory is to not make the transition to management too soon.
A second very important factor is to have a passion for the work and the people. Leadership is very hard business, and not all aspects are fun. This passion you have for the organization will carry you through the hard times that often come with a hard job.
Lastly, I would like to counter the notion that one must choose between career and family. My experience is that not only can one succeed at both, but also that each aspect of one’s life benefits from the other. I can remember very well the constraints imposed in the days when my children were young—leaving work to pick them up and attending school conferences and sporting events. I think that the time spent with family was energizing and allowed me to be more focused and productive while at work. The impact of a strong and capable mother as a role model for daughters (and sons!) cannot be overestimated. I believe that appropriate family-work balance makes for a better work force. It is even more important for women in leadership roles to set the example for their organizations. You can have it all!