For a long time, Sabina Bulic was convinced that she would go into law. She studied law at Maastricht University and was interested in criminal law. But as so often in life, things turned out differently. In 2008, she got a job as a student assistant at the CAPHRI research school of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences. When given the opportunity to become a project manager, she changed her focus from criminal law and applies for a master’s programme in private law.
“As a project manager, you deal with all kinds of aspects of the research school, from legal to financial and fiscal elements. You’re the lynchpin of the organisation. I was involved in hundreds of projects. I liked that I never knew exactly what the day would bring. It was exciting work.”
Even so, “there came a moment when I fell into a rut”. Through Steep Face (now called Fostering Future Leaders, a development programme for future UM managers), she ended up at SHE. Bulic and her team of ten people are responsible for the school’s operations management.
In her current role, Bulic has seen many other managers in action. “Sometimes I think, ‘I would’ve done that differently’ and other times I think, ‘Impressive, well done’.” It has shaped her understanding of the kind of leader she wants to be. “It gets on my nerves when managers only look at numbers and results. I focus on relationships. I think that’s important. My door is literally always open, and I make sure to really give people my time and undivided attention when they approach me about something. I want to create a safe workplace environment. That doesn’t mean I can’t be critical, though. I speak up when I want things to be different. But I also point it out when things are going well.”
She isn’t a fan of micromanaging; closely observing and controlling everything your employees do. “You must have faith in your colleagues. They’re professionals who know what they’re doing. I try to give people freedom.” Another leadership pitfall: “Creating expectations and failing to meet them. I do what I say. It builds trust.” And another important thing: “Never act without knowledge. If I don’t have the knowledge I need for a specific decision or task, I do my best to acquire it. Financial matters can be incredibly complex. If I can’t make sense of them myself, I take them to our controller.”
Bulic draws inspiration from the people around her in both her professional and private life. “It’s inspiring to see young women in leadership positions, like [CEO of SNS Bank] Angela Eijlander. I think it’s important to show my daughter that I can both be in a busy leadership position and be a parent.”
She recently attended the leadership course Fundamentals of Leadership at the UM Leadership Academy. What was the most important lesson she learnt there? “Be aware of the fact that your actions as a manager have a certain impact. For example, I don’t mind replying to a couple of emails at night. But getting a late-night work email from me might make my team members feel like they should also be working in the evenings. Others may interpret your actions differently than you intended.”
This ties into her own Achilles’ heel as a leader. “I’m very enthusiastic and I love my job. Each new project makes me go, ‘Let’s do this!’ It can be motivating, but it can also be overwhelming. I have to pace myself. Sometimes I’ll already be three steps ahead and I’ll have forgotten to include others in my thinking process. And sometimes we can’t do everything at once, or other people have other priorities. I need to be aware of that.”