Volunteer Management: the Steve Irwin way

Andy Fryar November 1, 2006 0
Volunteer Management: the Steve Irwin way


By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar

Like many people, I was shocked with the sudden death of Australian wildlife crusader Steve Irwin recently. His untimely death struck a chord with a vast array of people from many countries, all ages and every walk of life.

So what’s all this got to do with volunteer management?

Well I have to say that as I sat and watched Steve’s memorial service, being beamed live from Australia Zoo, I sat in awe of the fact that this seemingly normal bloke from Queensland was being mourned, and his life feted, by the Prime Minister of Australia and many of the world’s biggest celebrities. How is it that an estimated 300 million viewers worldwide would watch his memorial service? After all, wasn’t this just a guy who wrestled Crocodiles?

Well of course the answer to that is ‘no’. While Steve may have started his career wrestling prehistoric reptiles, he represented so much more than that – and as we celebrate International Volunteer Manager Appreciation Day on November 1, I believe that there are lessons we can all learn from his example about how we, as volunteer resource managers (VRM’s), can also make a lasting impact on what it is that we do.

So here are the qualities that Steve demonstrated which I believe we can all learn from:

Passion & Belief – Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny he was passionate about what he did for a living. Being passionate about what it is that you do is critical to not only enjoying our work – but to making a difference of any lasting significance. Passion of course comes from having a well grounded belief in what it is that you set out to achieve. As VRM’s, it is critical that we understand we make a difference every day to the way our volunteers are able to go about their work, serving those causes in our communities that so often don’t come with government funding. We also need to understand that we directly impact the lives of the volunteers we work with.

Helping others catch the vision – What was perhaps even more impressive about Steve Irwin was his ability to have others catch the same vision that he held. I’ve heard many testimonies now from people who had spent just a single day with him, but who swear it was a day that would change their lives forever. For volunteer management to continue to progress, both within our own agencies and more broadly, we too need to find ways to inspire those we come into contact with to take a journey with us.

Surrounding yourself with success & knowing your limits – While Irwin would not hesitate to jump on the back of a giant lizard, he did have a good knowledge of what he could and could not do well. To that end, he surrounded himself with successful people – others who could compliment his strengths with their own expertise. As VPM’s, we too need to understand that we cannot be everything to everyone. We need to delegate tasks to those better prepared than us to tackle the parts of our jobs we can’t handle. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of maturity.

Understanding the importance of research – One of the facts that was revealed in the aftermath of Steve’s death was the incredible amount of time he spend conducting and assisting with research into Crocodile habitats and life cycle patterns. As VPM’s I think we often place too little emphasis on understanding the nuances of what it is we do. Demographic trends, new data on recruitment, motivations for Generation’s X and Y to volunteer, latest theories on leadership. These and many other forms of research are critical in helping us to further our careers individually and our profession more globally.

Wrestling Crocs is not always pretty! You only had to watch one of Irwin’s documentaries to realise he took a ‘warts and all’ approach to film making. After all, when you are jumping on the back of a crocodile on a mud flat, chances are you are going to get pretty dirty. For those of us dedicated to trying to make volunteer management a more recognised and valued field in which to work, we too also need to understand that things won’t always be ‘nice and clean’. Whether dealing with errant volunteers, having to take the hard line in the development of a new policy or having to stand our ground against a line manager, politician, colleague or funder, things may at times not always be as pretty as we’d like. Sometimes the harder we have to fight and the more times we get knocked down – the stronger and wiser we become.

He spoke his mind – Associated with the point above, Steve always spoke his mind. And I don’t write that suggesting he was arrogant and argumentative, because he was just as likely to be crying his eyes out over a sick koala. The lesson for us is to find ways to feel comfortable about sharing what it is we are feeling – our frustrations, our excitement and our successes.

An ability to see the bigger picture – Another of Steve’s strengths was to be able to see beyond the here and now, and project his thinking ahead. Whether relating to the possible extinction of a particular kind of Australian marsupial or using his remarkable business acumen, he was a genius at being able to think one step ahead of the game. We too need to learn to find ways to break out of the busy work cycles so many of us get caught in and take some time to think about where our programs – and our profession are heading.

Creating a legacy – Finally, out of being able to see the bigger picture, Steve Irwin was able to create a lasting legacy beyond his own life. His foundation, ‘wildlife warriors’ will continue to serve ecological ends long after he is gone. And in the same way that his father influenced him, his daughter Bindi looks set to continue the environmental message her father started. The transferable quality here of course is that in volunteer management, we always need to be finding ways to leave our jobs, our programs and our profession in a little better state than we found them in. If we are all dedicated to doing this the impact can only be incremental and of great impact.

So as we celebrate International Volunteer Managers Appreciation Day, let’s take a step back and consider some of the lessons above. Why not make this year’s IVMA Day a milestone day where you vow to make a difference between now and next year? Go on – set some goals and pop a note in your diary to check back in with yourself next year to see just what a difference 12 months can really make!

Crickey …let’s be sure volunteer management doesn’t become an extinct species!

Happy IVMA Day folks!

Let’s hear from you

~ If you have set a goal for yourself – why not go on record and share it now?

~ Are there other qualities we have missed in the article above? Share them.


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