With an academic background in clinical science and clinical research from the University of Cardiff and a further Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Social Psychology, Sheila Casserly is one of the great female leaders making strides within the Interim world.
Sheila has worked for many different Lifesciences organisations as an Executive Interim and is a valued client, candidate, and friend of the RSA family. She has been leading the charge and pioneering change within the world of female leadership for several years; and joined us to speak about the experiences and challenges she has had during her career, shedding light on the positive aspects of an Interim lifestyle.
What Influenced you to pursue a career in Lifesciences?
Like many others, my career started as a general nurse, which I absolutely loved. However, managing shift work and home life was quite challenging back then, especially raising two small children. At a crossroad in my life, the opportunity to diversify my career lead me to the University of Leeds as a mature student which allowed me to continue my education and develop my personal growth, whilst enabling me to care for my son and daughter in a way that suited my family. I hope I lead by example and inspire my children to follow their dreams and not to be afraid of change.
Eventually, through some twists and turns I joined a CRO as part of a pilot scheme being one of the first CRAs in the country (yes, it’s a long time ago) – the working from home lifestyle was a winner but I will never forget the training and grounding the life of a CRA gave me, it was a foundation that would serve me well.
After a few years working for large pharma organisations, I decided to try the freelance pathway, originally only for a couple of years to experience difference aspects of clinical development, 20 years later I am still freelancing and would not change any part of that journey.
Alongside my passion for oncology, freelance work offered me great opportunities to develop my understanding of Biotech, gain more experience in project management roles, and work within academic units.
I have never been afraid of taking chances or experiencing change, always embracing opportunities has allowed me to work in dynamic, global teams and be part of paradigm shifts in healthcare, which is an incredible feeling. I have always found ways to grow and develop my skills and never afraid to take a risk if unsure of a role. Richard Branson said ‘if someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are unsure you can do it, say yes’.
Successful teams are born from great leaders.
I’m lucky to have encountered some great leaders over the course of my career; the memorable ones are those that listened, understood, and knew what everyone’s strengths were. They were adept at bringing a team together and I try to embody their teaching with every project I take on.
I have an immense sense of pride whenever I’m able to help complete a clinical trial. Getting involved in all the different intricacies of the process, taking part within that dynamic landscape, is reason enough to jump out of bed in the morning. When building a team for a project, I look for people who have the same hunger and passion for clinical research as I do.
The mix of skills within your team can make or break a project. You need determined people, each with defined experience, that can communicate effectively to bring a project to success. You don’t need six people – all suited to management – working in roles that aren’t right for them. You need skilled people capable of adapting to the specifications of your project with the abilities to do so effectively. Creating a diverse team is the first hurdle in leading a successful project.
Even once you have selected those who you feel are the best fit for your project, the enjoyment of the team is still a major consideration. Happy faces make for better days and more efficient output, simple as that. The team might be stuck at the bottom of a metaphoric mountain, but if you go through the challenges as a tight unit, you will reach the summit together. Cheesy I know, but it can create some truly inspiring moments that you just don’t see in some stagnant working environments.
Despite all that, there are two fundamental skills that I believe every leader should develop so they can become a credit to their team, and those are communication and listening. Seeing others struggle bothers me greatly – I do everything I can to make things right for the team, respecting each individual and valuing opinions is always the best way forward.
Differences between permanent and freelance positions
Establishing camaraderie as an Interim project manager can be quite challenging, especially when you start out on the freelancing path. Sometimes you can be in and out of projects within six months, however, if you are open to it, there are often opportunities to meet incredible people and form lasting friendships.
I’m lucky to now be well-networked because of the Interim scene, having several people that I can depend on and talk to in the industry (special credit here to RSA’s own Paul Duffy, who has become a dear friend). Your home is likely to become your office too, so you should always remember to keep being social to create a healthy division between the two environments – having someone like Paul to talk to is the equivalent of grabbing a coffee / chatting in the office and bouncing off ideas – please don’t underestimate the value of this. Social events and regular meetings can be abundant in big organisations, but you can imagine that can be tough for Interim teams. Luckily, the freelancing world has its own community in the way of forums and social media. It is a melting pot of people from a myriad of backgrounds, all navigating the world of Interims.
The Interim community operates very differently from permanent working environments; they are very different cultures when you compare the two directly, but the dynamic nature of smaller, specialised, and likeminded teams appeals to me. The shifting natures of the people I interact with daily offered more opportunities to grow. Have an open mind!
What advice would you give aspiring female leaders?
Even today, women face tough challenges juggling an intense work-life balance; that doesn’t mean you should ever give up! To all the ladies reading this; if you can run a house (you can manage a budget), if you can raise children (you can manage a team with diverse skill sets) if you look after elderly parents too (you can plan, organise, and manage a project) you can be a leader – once you change your mind-set, what’s stopping you?!
Are you seeking an Executive Interim? Ever considered becoming an Executive interim? If you would like to discover more about the Executive World, Paul and Lewis would love to talk to you.