Developing Veterinary Leadership Skills: Finding Ways to Learn These Skills When Time and Resources Are Lacking
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2015

Leigh Ann Clayton1*, DVM, DABVP (Avian and Reptile/Amphibian); Scott P. Terrell2, DVM, DACVP

1National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD, USA; 2Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando, FL, USA


Leadership and management skills are critical to developing trusting, team-based environments that foster optimal animal care. Veterinarians are frequently placed in formal leadership roles within institutions. Regardless of a formal role, all veterinarians should consider themselves leaders in the zoo environment as they interact directly with and influence nearly all members of the animal care staff, as well as those in other organizational groups (e.g., media relations, development, facilities, operations). When relationships are strong, optimal animal care decisions can be made more easily, resources may be more readily directed toward veterinary care, and staff morale can be improved.

Veterinarians spend years developing the technical skills needed for their role; skills related to what they do as clinicians (e.g., anesthetizing animals, interpreting diagnostics, evaluating the literature) or research (e.g., study execution, paper writing). However, many have had little opportunity to develop skills related to the technical aspects of effective management and leadership. This also applies to the so-called “soft skills,” such as those related to relationship building and communication.

Skills needed for these non-clinical aspects of the job can be learned. Increased ability in these areas can be critical to creating environments that are supportive of optimal animal care. In addition, they may allow veterinarians to more effectively contribute to the future development of professional animal care models and conservation actions and take on a greater role in executive level positions.

The Leadership and Management Forum within the Membership Services Committee was established to help develop transformational veterinary leaders within zoological and conservation areas. Many of us receive little or no training in management and leadership skills, but developing these skills is integral to increasing our relevance in the field and optimizing our ability to provide animal care. The group is providing various resources to members, such as “tips and tricks,” references lists, insights from knowledgeable colleagues, and full-length workshops. We are actively seeking interested members to help grow our resources and support each other in developing these skills.

Below are some prompts to help get you motivated to focus, at least occasionally, on leadership and management skills.

1.  Identify a few personally meaningful reasons to develop the skills. Learning new skills takes time and energy. Personal reasons help increase motivation to engage in that learning. Some ideas might include improving animal care, saving time, reducing your stress, and career advancement.
Ask yourself: What will I get out of this that is meaningful to me?

2.  Acknowledge it has to start with you. Even if your institutional environment is not healthy or highly functional, you can still develop new skills that improve your ability to care for the animals and increase trust within teams.
Ask yourself: How can I be part of improving these relationships? Envision a future with those skills in place.
Ask yourself: What would it look and feel like if it was easier to get my work accomplished?

3.  Identify one or two learning methods that work best for you in your current environment (e.g., reading blogs on the computer, reading books, listening to podcasts, watching online training videos, listening to CDs in your car) and how much time you might be able to devote to exploring these topics.
Ask yourself: What will be easiest to fit into my current schedule and match my preferred learning method?

4.  Identify one or two short-term goals that are realistic given your current environment. These can be very simple, such as spending 5 min/wk reading a blog post about communication skills.
Ask yourself: What can I start doing right away?


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Leigh Ann Clayton, DVM, DABVP (Avian and Reptile/Amphibian)
National Aquarium
Baltimore, MD, USA

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