What Is a Clinical Research Director? A Look at a Crucial Role in Care Delivery.

Medical researchers are constantly seeking new ways to understand the spread of disease to prevent adverse health outcomes and improve the treatments available to different patients. One of the most important ways they try to accomplish these goals is through clinical research trials, in which new or innovative interventions can be tested on patient volunteers. The goal of such trials is to ensure that new clinical procedures and protocols are developed in a way that is not only effective but also safe.

Clinical research directors play a substantial role in ensuring that these trials are effective.

What Does a Clinical Research Director Do?

Consider the basic parameters of the clinical research director job. What is a clinical research director, and what are some of the responsibilities associated with this role?

Clinical research directors are in charge of health care organizations’ research and trial efforts. They are often responsible for overseeing one or more trials and thus one or more teams of research scientists and nurses.

Responsibilities of a Clinical Research Director

According to the compensation website PayScale, a clinical research director’s key responsibilities include the following:

  • Developing new trials. Clinical research directors establish the goals of new trials and projects and also outline the basic standards and processes involved.
  • Ensuring compliance. Clinical research directors oversee all legal and regulatory compliance, particularly with regard to patient safety and authorized data use. These professionals ensure compliance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines as well as more general clinical best practices.
  • Collecting and monitoring results. As clinical trials unfold, clinical research directors monitor data collection and note emerging trends.
  • Leading a team. Clinical research directors are often tasked with assembling and managing a team of research scientists, as well as nurses and patient coordinators.
  • Openly Communicate. Clinical research directors communicate the progress and results of their trials to stakeholders, including managers and executives within the organization.

Beyond the Clinical

While the responsibilities associated with the clinical research director role are often scientific, the position also has key administrative responsibilities. A clinical research manager may have human resources duties, including recruiting and coordinating with researchers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A clinical research director may also have fiscal responsibilities, such as managing the trial budget.

How to Become a Clinical Research Director

Clinical research directors need to develop several core competencies to be successful. The best way to hone these skills and become a competitive job candidate is through education and professional experience.

Key Skills

The Association of Clinical Research Professionals notes that several fundamental skills are critical for clinical research directors. To find success in their role, clinical research directors must be:

  • Equipped to set a vision and convey goals and standards to their team members
  • Able to analyze different health problems to determine meaningful ways to pursue change
  • Comfortable in a laboratory and in clinical settings
  • Clear communicators with researchers, nurses, and other stakeholders
  • Detail-oriented, keeping in mind the finer points of clinical procedure, and legal compliance

Education and Experience

A good way to develop the skills to become a clinical research director is by gaining experience in a clinical research setting, working under the supervision of an experienced clinical research director. Most director-level positions require previous experience in a research role.

As the Houston Chronicle notes, clinical research directors are typically expected to have an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in clinical research, at a minimum. However, to become more competitive in the job market and command a higher salary, a master’s degree in a field like clinical research management can be invaluable.

Clinical Research Director Salary

For those considering work in clinical research, salary is an important factor. According to PayScale data from August 2020, the median annual salary for clinical research directors is about $112,400.

Many factors can affect the salary, including the following:

  • Educational background. Those with more advanced degrees will typically command higher salaries and more prestigious research appointments.
  • Experience level. More years of clinical research experience typically yield higher salaries.
  • Geographic Location. Those working in larger cities, with more clinical research facilities, will often draw higher salaries.

Getting Started in Clinical Research

Clinical research directors play an essential role in developing new medications, clinical protocols and therapeutic interventions. Get a head start on this career trajectory with an advanced degree. Wake Forest University’s online Master’s in Clinical Research Management program offers a curriculum designed to produce well-rounded clinical research professionals, including classes touching on ethics and clinical methodologies. Find out more about this program today.


Association of Clinical Research Professionals, “The Anatomy of a Great Clinical Research Coordinator”

Houston Chronicle, “Minimum Education Requirements for a Clinical Research Coordinator”

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Clinical Trials at NIAID

National Institutes of Health, NIH Launches Clinical Trials Network to Test COVID-19 Vaccines and Other Prevention Tools

PayScale, Average Clinical Research Director Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers