Towards Modern Management in Wildlife Conservation

Simon Black –

Management has been a serious discipline of academic note at least since the 1940s, with Peter Drucker popularising its study by managers and organisations with over 30 books. Starting from The Concept of the Corporation in 1946 which first introduced the idea of organisational management, Drucker is considered one of the most important thought leaders in management.¬† It is notable that whilst he encouraged focus on customers and rejected the concepts of command-and-control, his ideas hold many inconsistencies. Less helpful suggestions include his emphasis on work design based on ‘front office’ and ‘back office’ concepts, outsourcing, and management-by-objectives. What is interesting about these ideas is that they appear very plausible – the bread and butter of management surely. Yet in practice these approaches fall down time-and-time again (and for good reason when you understand systems theory and psychology).

It can be argued that these ideas appear far from the operational concerns of wildlife conservation. Nevertheless, time and again I see conservation NGOs and government departments using management-by-objectives. It is also common for decision makers to be based in HQ whilst people on the ground have to take grief from local people, or to find field professionals fiddling around waiting in frustration for senior authorisation to make necessary interventions. Worse, whole programmes get defined by the requirements of funders, not the needs of species and ecosystems of concern.

In most instances these difficulties are of course not the deliberate fault of central management. But as senior managers we must not omit to make effort to understand the realities of management – if you design the work and the organisation incorrectly it prevents purposeful action by staff. The best conservation managers focus on having a whole picture of conservation management – purposefully leading people “to do the right work better“, for the benefit of species and ecosystems.

This requires an understanding of the function and nature of systems, variation, psychology and knowledge (Deming 1982), which often challenges our preconceptions about management, organisation and leadership. Yet the combination of these areas of capability enables more meaningful and effective planning, goal-setting, partnership development and conservation work improvement. These new facets of leadership capability and the associated range of skills and disciplines needed for successful implementation are not taught in business schools or in conservation degrees and rarely appear in training courses. Yet, all remain vital for our sector with its challenges and uncertainties.

This is real Modern Management in Conservation.


Black, S. A., Groombridge, J. J., & Jones, C. G. (2013). Using better management thinking to improve conservation effectiveness. ISRN Biodiversity, 2013.

Deming, W. E. (1982) Out of the Crisis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge,
Mass, USA.


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