What does a lead CRA look like?

Lead cra at clinops toolkit

A lead CRA on Day 1

I was 27 years old when I walked in to the Clinical Research Associate (CRA) training room at my first Contract Research Organization (CRO) job. I’d flown in the day before, a 6-hour flight and then a chatty cab-ride along the waterfront. I’d barely slept. I was jittery. There were neon lights in the city below. Who could sleep? It was all so exciting!?

I pretend-sauntered through the lobby of the vintage hotel choking back my nerves, tugging at the hemline of my skirt. I was too nervous. Someone was going to notice.

This morning (10 years ago!), of my first-ever CRO onboarding, the tables were set up in a U-formation and I grabbed a seat just three chairs away from the door I had entered through. I stared at the giant 3-ring binder in front of me and wrinkled my brow. I pulled at the collar of my jacket and positioned myself in a pose that said, “this is so routine and familiar to me.” I was squealing with delight on the inside and eagerly anticipating the next 3 days.

l glanced across at people who appeared more tenured than me. They had their heads down, flipping through the orientation binder, looking totally relaxed in their professional attire, so composed. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I was concerned at any moment I would be found out. I was afraid that a human resources representative would come in, grab me by the shoulders, and ask me to leave. I looked around at the 14 other people in the room and at the same time I was both terrified and excited.

The lead CRA tells the story

I was scared because I knew I had only a few short years experience monitoring global trials. I had been hired as a CRA II (As in, not one, as in super senior, level 2!). In that moment I realized that these people didn’t know me. They know me as who I SAY I am. I could say anything. They wouldn’t know the difference and I control my story.

I was a 27-year old girl in a new city, on a new adventure, and I realized that I owned my professional brand. I could blend in or I could stand out in the noise.

I was proud to be in that room. I deserved to be in that room. I had been networking for at least five years focused on my goal to become a regional CRA and I was there!

I raced back to my hotel room at 5:30pm and I started the Lead CRA blog.

You tell your BRAND story

Everyone has a professional “brand” BY DESIGN or by default. The choice you have is whether you will control the narrative…or will you allow others to decide your “brand” for you.

One of our volunteers who helped administer our pilot OpsElevate peer-mentoring program last Fall (thanks, Ashley!) wrote to me, “personal branding is so important, because the field is small and the degree of separation is nothing.”  I just love the take away in that and I truly believe you should confidently promote your credentials and experience.

What is your lead CRA superpower?

My superpower is connecting people, one to another. Tonight I attended the Women in Tech event in San Francisco hosted by WalkMe and Pivotal Labs for “How to Sculpt Your Professional Brand.” and the panelists drove home the point that you should know what sets you apart from your peers.

Cralifestyle attending a women in tech event in san francisco

23Feb2016: Women in tech “Sculpt your Professional Brand” event – San Francisco, CA

What differentiates you as a lead CRA?

Are you leading with accomplishments (contributing to an NDA, helping new products get to market, qualifying high-performing sites and exceeding timelines). At tonight’s event, the clear message was DON’T BLEND.

A lead CRA is not forgettable

Of course, you need to get along with others but you don’t have to be exactly LIKE everyone else. Embrace your “creative X-factor” and be OK being known for your unique and differentiating effectiveness at work.

Word of caution, don’t be known for negatives like a clique you are a part of, disparaging comments about a former employer, commiserating about the sponsor’s decisions you disagree with, explosive negative reactions under stress, viciousness towards other, etc.

Be sure you are not standing out for the wrong things.

You are the lead cra and you choose how you are regardedFocus on output

At tonight’s panel, I heard clearly that we control our narrative in the workplace. Contribute to the team, develop a reputation for hard work, and be know for your authority and intelligence.

Bottom line: The way you are regarded impacts how people interact with you.

Be known for the most effective you

In our Elevate peer-mentoring program last Fall, we spent week 9 of the 12-week program discussing networking and personal branding. We drew a lot of inspiration from Jay Palter based on his invaluable advice outlined in the bulleted list below.

Who you know can be more important than what you know. These factors contribute to how you present yourself to others:

  • Values – What core principles determine your attitudes, choices, and actions?
  • Interests/Passions – What interests and motivates you in terms of how you spend your personal time?
  • Personality – What traits do you show to the world and what are you not comfortable showing?
  • Strengths – What abilities do you consistently apply to produce positive outcomes?
  • Weaknesses – What shortcomings are you consciously working to improve?

Brand yourself with every action

Have you done a google search for yourself lately? At tonight’s panel they suggested that you get testimonials & coverage about yourself from others. We are recognizing our audience on this blog. Will we be able to find your best and most effective you in a google search?

Join the lead CRA on social media

We are looking for guest authors to build new exchange of information at ClinOps Toolkit. We have a hashtag campaign launched called #CRALifestyle – post pictures of your values and effectiveness at work on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag and we will recognize you in our community.

See you on social media – you control your brand! Now get out there and…



About The Author


Nadia Bracken, lead contributor to the Lead CRA blog and the ClinOps Toolkit blog, is a Clinical Program Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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