Don’t Just Let Things Happen! ASAP Roundtable Zooms In on What Makes an Alliance Leader

Posted By: Michael Burke Member Resources, ASAP Roundtables,

In the Nov. 30 ASAP Roundtable “Managing Alliances Is Not Enough: Next Steps Toward True Alliance Leadership,” one participant aptly summed up what may be the biggest difference between the practice of “mere” alliance management and true alliance leadership:

“I find I’m being more proactive now, versus just letting things happen.”

That and other comments in this wide-ranging roundtable discussion suggest that actually and actively leading alliances, as opposed to just managing them, is as much an attitude, approach, and mindset as it is a set of principles or processes.

From Alliance Fundamentals to Seeing a Bigger Picture

The roundtable, which was led by moderators Professor Dave Luvison, executive in residence at the Sellinger School, Loyola University Maryland; Beatrice Lana, strategic alliance manager at Cancer Research UK; and Laure Nucci, executive director and head of alliance management for US and EU at Simcere Pharmaceutical Group, explored all facets of what constitutes alliance leadership.

Starting with the basics, various attendees noted that an alliance leader’s job is to establish best practices for managing alliances, as well as to install and communicate the role of alliance management in this process. Along with that is the imperative, at least in biopharma, to optimize the asset and to minimize any risk that comes with the partnership—and to mitigate that risk if and when it is realized.

Taking a portfolio approach to alliances also distinguishes the alliance leader from the more limited view of the alliance manager—although one participant argued that “managers are also leaders,” depending on the scope of the alliances within their purview.

Outcomes, Outputs, Alignment, and Strategy

Other elements of alliance leadership that were mentioned included:

  • Focusing on outcomes versus outputs
  • Leading without authority when necessary (by the use of influence, for example)
  • Acting as an alliance leader when you don’t even have an alliance team working with you—i.e., communicating and aligning stakeholders is important no matter what the org chart says
  • Taking a broader, more enterprise-wide view across alliances and across the organization
  • Contributing to company strategy and aligning with senior management

In the course of the roundtable, it was also pointed out that there’s nothing inherently “better” or “worse” about being an alliance manager versus an alliance leader. Both are necessary for the success of the partnering function, and in some cases the alliance manager may be focusing on more tactical activities, whereas the more broadly responsible alliance leader might be concerned with strategic thinking and efforts. (In smaller organizations, of course, busy alliance professionals are often tasked with doing both.) In either case, alliance professionals play a critical role as moderators, interpreters, ombudsmen, and “devil’s advocates” within their organizations, as one participant put it, helping to clarify arguments and interests and get the right people in the room to ensure that proper decisions are made in a timely manner.

Sound and Vision: Focus on the Future

In addition to the strategic component, some participants noted that the alliance leader is in effect a “visionary” executive, who looks to the future of the organization and its partnering efforts even as he or she is busy aligning that mission and vision with senior leaders and the company strategy.

Other attendees made it clear that what separates alliance leaders from the crowd is that they enable their organizations by building an environment in which alliances can succeed. They do this, in part, by helping their stakeholders from other functions be successful, by making sure those stakeholders and senior leaders have access to all the alliance information and data they need, by “getting into the right conversations,” and not being afraid of being “uncomfortable”—or of presiding over discussions and meetings that might get uncomfortable but are necessary to move alliances forward to value creation.

Sound advice for alliance professionals everywhere!

ASAP members, if you haven’t participated in an ASAP Roundtable, ASAP Webinar, or a Mug & Mingle lately—or, heaven forfend, at all!—it’s easy to do. Just go to for more information and to register for any of these upcoming events today! More great topics are slated for the new year, and your alliance and partnering peers are waiting to share their insights and experiences—and to hear yours.

Happy 2023 to everyone!