Pandas or people: it's all about trust

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am

Ocean Park may be best known as a great place for family entertainment, but part of its mission is to educate the public about conservation by bringing people into closer contact with plants, animals and the diverse wonders of the natural world.

Rebecca Cheng does just that as one of the park's assistant education managers and, as an animal lover, believes she has found the perfect job. Her responsibilities include planning programmes, designing courses for staff and volunteers, and liaising with other departments, all of which keeps her constantly on her toes.

'I designed the Dolphin Encounter and Physics in Motion programmes,' said Ms Cheng, adding that Physics in Motion is aimed at Form Four and Form Five students. 'Our staff attach a special device to the students' bodies, so they can see acceleration data after riding the roller coaster,' she said. 'It makes study fun and more effective.'

Ms Cheng also had the opportunity to attend international conferences on conservation since being promoted last October. This enabled her to learn more about regional environmental issues and to share ideas with educators from other countries.

She joined Ocean Park in 1999 after graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a degree in biology and ecology. Her aim was to find a career working with animals, so she sent in her details, even though no vacancies were advertised, and was offered a position.

Her first job was to look after two mainland immigrants - An An and Jia Jia.

'I was so proud because I was the first female panda keeper in Hong Kong. I had to take care of their everyday needs and work closely with the vets,' Ms Cheng said.

She transferred to the Ocean Park Academy after a year to work as an education officer. The job was more academic in nature and involved presenting relevant information for the public in an interesting and engaging way.

Now, as a middle manager with a team of 22, Ms Cheng has realised there is no great difference between managing people and managing pandas.

It is all about understanding needs and seeing what will work best in different situations.

'You cannot control pandas, so you have to try your best to understand them,' she said. 'Sometimes, they can be emotional, but you can still accommodate their needs if you care about them and are patient. If you dedicate the necessary time and effort you can gain their trust.'

She has found the same basic principles can be applied when working with her team, which is young, lively and energetic.

'I prefer to work together with them rather than to act as a supervisor,' she said. 'With an open work environment and good communication, we can all learn and improve together.'

Five keys to being an effective middle manager

Be ready to take the initiative

Share your experience and help staff to grow

Show you can work independently

Think ahead for your boss and your subordinates

Be creative