Reflections on leadership development in conservation

Dr Susan M Cheyne Borneo Nature Foundation IUCN SSC PSG Section on Small Apes Oxford Brookes University
Reflections on leadership development in conservation

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Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act toward achieving a common. A leader inspires others to act while simultaneously directing the way that they act. They must be personable enough for others to follow their orders, and they must have the critical thinking skills to know the best way to use the resources at an organization's disposal. Leadership, in my opinion, is not something we cover in detail in conservation training. It is more a skill we (sometimes) acquire, but often it is a responsibility which is thrust upon us. Creating an environment where people are happy to be led by you and where you are confident in leading is critical to establishing a functioning organisation where there is trust in the leadership.

This also relates to providing training to staff (Cheyne and Ottay 2020) and providing opportunities for a members of the team to progress. Some of the things I have learnt from personal experience and taking the Tribe training programme ( are:

  • What is your personal purpose for leadership?
  • I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something that I would not do myself.
  • Understand requests before you delegate it to someone and are you the best person who is qualified to address the request?
  • Be willing to support people and ask for help/feedback/review.
  • Be willing to work on your weaknesses and obstacles to becoming a better leader: timekeeping, delegation, report completion etc and
  • What are your priorities for your own growth and that of your organisation?

Practicing self-development, but also expecting this from your employer, is common in the business world, but less common in conservation. If we expect to deliver the best for the wildlife and landscapes we are working to protect, we need to invest in both the leaders of today, but also of tomorrow.


Cheyne, S. M., & Ottay, J. B. (2020). Managing staff and health in wildlife conservation: a perspective from the Borneo Nature Foundation. Biodiversity, 0(0), 1–2. doi:10.1080/14888386.2020.1776154

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Go to the profile of Beth Robinson
almost 4 years ago

Hello, this sounds really interesting, thanks for sharing. Would it be possible to get a copy of the full article? Thanks, Beth (