Making the Move from Data Science to Data Leadership Making the Move from Data Science to Data Leadership
Businesses don’t know what to do with their data. It’s a brave new world out there with the potential to derail... Making the Move from Data Science to Data Leadership

Businesses don’t know what to do with their data. It’s a brave new world out there with the potential to derail even the most earnest data science initiatives, so businesses are getting smart. They’re hiring data science leadership, not just data scientists, and you could be part of this new wave of C-suite adjacent positions.

[Related Article: 3 Unexpected Pathways To A Career In Data Science]

Data science leadership requires a few new skills for success. Whether you have these dormant in your personality already or you need to cultivate them, these traits are non-negotiable. Let’s take your expertise to the next level with this roadmap for how to make the transition.

Step One: Hone Your People Skills

Science gets a bad reputation for terrible people skills, but we all know that’s not true. Scientists are curious, excited, and creative. Part of your job when you transition to a leadership role is bringing that natural charisma to the forefront.

You’ll be less responsible with algorithms and more in tune with facilitating everyone’s daily job description. You’ll be the face of your department, and that means both advocacy and updates on behalf of your team to the business stakeholders. It also means learning to give useful feedback to your team and taking feedback effectively from your own higher-ups.

Brush up on those essential skills with some courses on leadership skills and communication if you don’t feel ready. Make a list of some great leaders you’ve had in your own life, work and otherwise, and make a list of traits that made them effective. Better yet, ask them what they feel makes them effective leaders.

Step Two: Learn to Delegate

Your priority now is on your people instead of the coolest new algorithm, but that doesn’t mean you step away entirely. Balance the need to stay informed with prioritizing other tasks by building a team you trust.

Encourage and advocate for the continuing education of your team. Whether it’s self-paced or official conferences, a well-informed team helps take the pressure off of you to stay up to date with every little thing.

Cultivate a culture of learning on your team, and you’ll be a step ahead on the latest innovations in data science. It’s not going to be within your reach to stay up to date on everything with all the other tasks you have as a data science leader but never fear. You can still use your team to help you stay informed and by proxy, keep your team’s potential high.

You’ll also need to learn to delegate. You can’t do everything on your own. If you find yourself spending most of your days troubleshooting the infrastructure, it might be time to advocate for a data engineer (or training someone already on staff to move into that position). If you’re maintaining the data lake and missing business meetings as a result, where’s your data manager or analyst?

Business is counting on you to help hire the team you need and to train the one you have. You’ll be hands-on with many things, but being the data “point person” does not mean “the catchall.” Work with your business budget, needs, and understanding to get the team your company needs.

Step Three: Bring in More Projects

Your role as an advocate is to make sure your team has projects. While you were on the data science team, you may have waited for things to move down the business pipeline for you to do. As a leader, you need to be a little more proactive.

As the data science leader, it’s your job to identify areas in the business where the automation and innovation of data science could be a positive factor. The business side may not always know how to deploy data science in areas of business, and they certainly won’t know what data science is capable of accomplishing.

[Related Article: 4 Examples of Businesses Solving Problems with AI]

If you want a thriving data science branch, filling in those gaps, pitching ideas, and staying on top of how your data science team can transform business practice is a huge part of your goal as a leader. Don’t waste your face-time in meetings by waiting for the business side to catch up. 

Stepping Into Leadership

You can perform many of these tasks at your company even if you aren’t in the official leadership position. Companies see and reward initiative, so building up your interpersonal and leadership skills while in a data science position could help you leverage your worth into a leadership role.

Once you’ve landed a leadership position, your care and facilitation can help your team accomplish great things in the world of business. If leadership is on your radar, now could be a great time to take advantage of the growing swell of management and C-suite positions related to data science as businesses begin to take on big data as a culture. Good luck!

Elizabeth Wallace, ODSC

Elizabeth is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for startups. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain - clearly - what it is they do. Connect with her on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethawallace/