The Effective Ecologist: Succeed in the Office Environment

The Effective Ecologist: Succeed in the Office Environment

by Neil Middleton


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The Effective Ecologist covers the stuff that no-one told you about at university - how to develop your office-related and business skills to succeed in your career as a professional ecologist.

This book shows you how to be more effective in your role, providing you with the skills and effective behaviours within the workplace that will enable your development as an ecologist.

It explains what it means to be effective in the workplace and describes positive behaviours and how they can be adopted. It contains the skills needed for effective communication, organising projects, advice on planning, reporting and meetings and provides you with everything you need for a brilliant and successful career.

In a clearly written and honest account full of real life examples, the author leaves no stone unturned as he describes how making small changes in your behaviour can have a positive impact upon your performance and how you are perceived in your working environment.

Essential reading for anyone commencing or already pursuing a career in ecology who wants to perform at the highest level. In addition this work will be of great interest to team managers, business leaders and those responsible for the development of staff as a point of reference and guidance for their team.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784270834
Publisher: Pelagic Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Pages: 150
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Neil Middleton is a licensed bat worker and trainer, with 20 years experience, having carried out most of his bat related work within the UK and Europe (Ireland, Cyprus, France, Spain and Hungary). He is the managing director of Echoes Ecology Ltd (, an ecological consultancy he established in Scotland during 2006. Neil has been involved with many bat related projects to date, including the Bats & The Millennium Link (BaTML) project which he set up to study the use of canal corridors by bats in Scotland ( Neil is an accomplished trainer across a wide range of bat related subjects, having developed and delivered well over a 100 events to date. Neil first came across his co-authors, Andrew and Keith, whilst they all attended a bat course in Somerset during 2004, an event that not only inspired all three of them, but also was the beginning of a long friendship as they explored many bat related subjects together, including the material for this book.

Read an Excerpt



Effectiveness is doing the right things.

Peter Drucker (1909–2005)

American management consultant, educator and author

I suppose the best place to get started is to define precisely what I mean by an 'effective ecologist'. Naturally, someone working within the ecology sector needs to be knowledgeable, competent and experienced in the taxonomic groups, habitats and survey methods they are involved with. In other words, they would be expected to have the relevant technical knowledge (including qualifications) and work-related experience.

Technical knowledge

Looking at technical knowledge first – well, that's a given, isn't it? Surely if a person doesn't have the knowledge then they shouldn't be in the job in the first place. Alternatively, they could be given the training required. But if neither the knowledge nor the training is in place, the employer should not be asking them to do something which is beyond their technical skillset. For example, someone who doesn't know how to identify plant species shouldn't be anywhere near a National Vegetation Classification (NVC) survey.

Work-related experience

Let us now consider the difference between knowledge and experience. It's not difficult in our sector to see that someone can have quite a lot of theoretical knowledge about a particular subject, without necessarily having any relevant practical experience. Many years ago I was quite well informed about cetaceans, and I could have told you huge amounts about whales and dolphins: where to find them, how to identify them, diet, breeding behaviour. Was I suitably experienced to carry out cetacean surveys? No, I most certainly wasn't. I had read lots of books and watched lots of videos (there's a clue as to how long ago I am talking about), but I hadn't seen that many cetacean species in the flesh in their natural environment.

It is clear, then, that knowledge and experience are not necessarily the same thing. A combination of both is essential in order for an ecologist to be capable of carrying out their responsibilities at the required level. So there you have it, technical knowledge and relevant field experience – that's all it takes, isn't it? If only it were that simple.


Although this book is not going to make frequent reference to the technical knowledge and experience aspects of being an ecologist, it is very important for me to stress something at the outset. Everything that we will go on to discuss assumes that a person employed or engaged to carry out a professional job is knowledgeable, skilled, technically competent, qualified, experienced – and whatever else you want to add – at carrying out the role. In fact, when interviewing a candidate for a job in our sector these are usually the areas that are given the most attention. You can see and touch a qualification; you can discuss experience at length; you can talk about the type of sites worked upon and knowledge of different species.

It is much harder, however, for a potential employer to gauge the candidate's generic business behaviours, their interpersonal skills, and whether or not they are going to be a good 'cultural fit' for the business. This latter aspect is high on the agenda for any smart employer. As Steve Jackson-Matthews (Land Use Consultants Ltd) says, one of the most important criteria he assesses potential employees on is, 'Will they be a good fit into my existing team?' If, as an employer, you have someone in front of you who is technically brilliant but your gut instinct is telling you that they won't be a good fit, then you are taking a big risk employing them. It is considerably easier to train someone lacking in technical ability than to squeeze the square peg of an unsuitable new staff member into the round hole in an effectively operating team environment.

Even when everything on the face of it goes well at the interview stage, it is not easy to be sure how well the interviewee will integrate into the team and whether or not they can be effective in carrying out the role. Are they really the workaholic they profess to be? Will they really pull out all the stops to meet a critical deadline? Are they really a good team player? What is pretty certain, though, is that as an employer you don't know what you and your team are really going to get until this new person walks through the door at 9 o'clock on their first morning. Assuming, that is, that they are on time in the first place. As the weeks and months pass by, will the new recruit actually prove to be effective in their role? So perhaps, after all, there is so much more that matters, over and above technical knowledge and work-related experience.

Of the three areas touched upon (technical knowledge, experience and effectiveness), I would suggest that the foundation to everything is effectiveness (Figure 1.1). Perhaps at this early stage you wouldn't entirely agree. So just in case you're not convinced, let's explore the matter a little further.

From your employer's and/or a customer's perspective, if you are the best ornithologist in your area, with a huge amount of knowledge and experience, but you communicate poorly and you never arrive on time, would that not be a concern? Let's add that you often forget to take the appropriate health and safety PPE (personal protective equipment) onto site and your reports are not only poorly written and full of errors, but also habitually late (in fact, very late). If this is you, the chances are your reputation will be severely damaged and you won't have a job or customers for much longer. In fact, if this is your approach to your work, who could actually say that you are the best ornithologist in your area? The requirement for any job would probably state that it needs to be completed safely, on time, within budget, and with a good-quality 'fit for purpose' report. If you are not achieving these things, are you really the best person for the job? Are you really the best ornithologist available to that particular employer or customer?


It is important, when engaging with other people (as we are all doing, all of the time), to bear in mind that the world around you often looks different from the perspective of others. As soon as you have more than one person's point of view you have the potential to have a difference of opinion, even over the smallest of matters. In the broadest sense, the way that you may be feeling internally on being told something could be very different to how the person giving you the message is intending to make you feel or perceiving your reaction. Such scenarios often hinge on how a particular event impacts upon you, bearing in mind your own perspective of how you will be affected, or not, by what is being proposed. For example, if you were told by your manager that your company vehicle was being sold and you now had to share a pool car, I imagine that you would feel quite negative about that. On the other hand, the situation from your boss's point of view might be very different. Money will now be available for a positive impact elsewhere in the business. What if the money saved could now go towards employing an assistant ecologist directly supporting you and removing some of your workload? How do you feel now?

Two sides to every story

As you continue reading this book there are two important, different and sometimes conflicting perspectives that I am going to refer to while exploring the topics and examples given: that of the employer and that of the employee.

First of all, let's look at it from the employer's perspective. How do you coach and give guidance to someone in order to help them be a better professional and an effective fit within the business world in which you are operating? It's difficult. It involves numerous areas of expertise (e.g. interpersonal skills, organisational skills, time management) that may lie beyond your own knowledge and experience. You may not even be aware of why some of the things you do yourself impact upon the team around you in the way, either positive or negative, that they do.

Secondly, let's consider an employee's perspective. What areas can you work upon and what things can you do in order to be more effective in your role? If you were more effective, would that have a positive impact? Would your life be less challenging, less stressful, more productive – and therefore more enjoyable, more satisfying and ultimately more successful?

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that most of us have been educated or have acquired our skills very much with the technical aspects (such as species identification and field skills) being the main or even the sole focus of our development. How many ecologists (at any level) do you know who have ever been given specific training relating to interacting with people? What about subjects such as management skills, effective leadership, communication skills, time management, project planning, negotiation skills, sales skills or finance? The number is very small in comparison to the number of people out there today who are being expected to perform many of these skills to a high level as part of their role.

Why is this the case? Well, there could be many reasons, but by and large it is usually the following. First of all, your employer may not know that much about these things themselves, and whether they do or they don't, they may not realise that you and the company could benefit greatly from better guidance. Secondly, a lack of available funds. And finally, pressure on time and resources. For example, you may have a training budget available, but who is going to want to go on a time management course when they can learn how to identify grasses and sedges? Perhaps if they were better at time management they would be able to do both.

Whether you are an employer, a manager or a team member in the ecology sector, the chances are that any non-technical skills you have been fortunate enough to pick up along the way have been acquired 'on the job' or as part of some other aspect of your life. It is less likely that you have been given any sort of formal guidance. This book helps to plug that gap. It doesn't cover everything, but it's a good start. The approach that I take is by no means the only way to do things. But if you take on board what is discussed in this book you will be more effective in your role, at whatever level that is. Note once again the key word: effective.


Good question, and thanks for taking me back to where I was a few minutes ago. Let me give you something to ponder over. Ecological consultants are very much in the service sector, but many of us fail to realise this. We see ourselves purely as ecologists, and forget (or, in some instances, may never have considered in the first place) that we are providing a service, managing risk and producing solutions. However, what we do is no different to what is offered by almost every other service-sector business out there. We have customers who pay for our services, and who rely on us delivering an excellent product.

What can these customers do if they don't receive what they believe to be an appropriate level of service? Simple. As has always been the case, they can go elsewhere. And in this age of the instantaneous alternative (easily found via the technology at our fingertips) it is easier than it has ever been to do so. So we are all operating within the service sector, and it just so happens that the service we are providing relates to ecology. And if it happens that you never directly see or speak to a customer, don't be fooled into thinking that you are not part of the service. Your role might be purely bat echolocation analysis or sitting on a remote mountainside carrying out vantage-point bird surveys, but if you fail to deliver there is the potential for a poor customer experience.

An effective employee

How would I respond when someone asks me what an effective ecologist looks like? Although not exhaustive, the following list should give you a good feel for what I mean.

An effective ecologist is someone who ...

• behaves professionally and fully understands how to operate with positive effect within the business in which they work.

• communicates appropriately within their team and with customers and suppliers.

• works within the prescribed systems, processes, methods and agreed budgets.

• has the vision to anticipate when a problem is looming and takes meaningful action to prevent the issue arising.

• listens well and understands precisely what they are being asked to deliver.

• completes their tasks on time and at the required level of quality.

An effective employer

Now let's develop the concept of effectiveness one step further, by considering it in relation to an employer or manager. What does an effective employer within the ecological sector look like?

First of all, assuming that they themselves are carrying out an ecological function at some level, then all of the aforementioned would still apply. What else? OK, you would be hoping to see good managerial skills and leadership behaviours. In addition to these, however, there is a huge part of the manager's role which involves delivering the required results on behalf of the business (Figure 1.2). Something that is often not appreciated, when considering that how these results are achieved, relates to the people working within the team. If the manager doesn't recruit the right people and develop the team members to be effective, then this certainly will impact upon what is achievable. Therefore, creating, developing and retaining teams that are going to be effective at delivering the required outputs is essential. Some people at this level in our sector do not think about it in this way. They may only be involved in team development (e.g. recruitment) a couple of times a year, and so they don't necessarily consider the positive everyday impact they can have on employee development and retention. My conclusion is that an effective ecologist in a managerial role is someone who is good at identifying, developing and retaining the right people. It is therefore vitally important that the person in that position is effective at recruitment, staff development and team building. If they get these areas right then the business will benefit greatly. Life will be so much easier, more productive and more rewarding for everyone involved, as the whole team moves forward in unison, rising to successfully serve customers and resolve daily challenges.

Robust foundations

All of that seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it? Well, if it is that straightforward why is it that so many people fall short so many times, and even the best of the best fall short some of the time? It is all very well believing that you can do all of these things well, but actually being able to deliver, time after time, day after day, against all of the pressures (both business and personal) that you face, is by no means easy. Therefore, rather than it being a haphazard 'some days I'm good, some days I'm not' lottery, you should at least consider that there might be approaches and techniques that can be adopted and put into daily practice. As you develop the habit of employing these techniques, they all become part of your 'subconscious competence' (Table 1.1).

When you get these foundations to your business day fixed firmly in place you will find that so much of what used to be potentially contentious or cumbersome begins to evaporate. Ultimately, it's all about being effective in your working environment, for the benefit of your employer, their customers, their suppliers, your work colleagues, and of course yourself.

Customer satisfaction

With all of this in mind let's look at Case study 1.1. The example given does not fit into an ecology box but nonetheless, using a fairly straightforward everyday customer experience, it gives us all something we can relate to. All that way just to turn a tap! But it wasn't a tap that was the issue here, it was a 'promise'; it was a reflection on their integrity and their professionalism; it was all part of their service ethos; it was all to do with customer satisfaction.

Now the thing to notice in this real-life example is that nothing that my mum said, regarding her satisfaction that the job had been done well, related to how knowledgeable the workforce were about the plants they were planting, the trees they were cutting, the slabs they were laying, and so on. All of that was taken as a given. What differentiated those workers all related to how they interacted with their customer, how they were organised (arriving on time and working within budget), and how they followed up, and resolved, a potential issue before it became a real problem. They got the basics so right, at such a high level, that overall they were totally effective.


We have now spent a bit of time looking at what effective is all about, from an employee's and an employer's perspective. However, how does effectiveness relate to efficiency?


Excerpted from "The Effective Ecologist"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Neil Middleton.
Excerpted by permission of Pelagic Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface, vii,
Acknowledgements, x,
Chapter 1 Being effective, 1,
Chapter 2 What's the job?, 13,
Chapter 3 Positive behaviours, 27,
Chapter 4 Communication skills, 49,
Chapter 5 Organisational skills, 83,
Chapter 6 Meetings, meetings, more meetings, 113,
Chapter 7 Project management, 129,
Chapter 8 Reporting, 155,
References, 179,
Appendix 1 Feedback: get rich quick, 180,
Appendix 2 Effective allocation of tasks, 182,
Appendix 3 Effective brainstorming, 186,
Glossary, 188,
INDEX, 198,

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