DHR GlobalPosition Specification Chief Zoological Officer, Woodland Park Zoo – Seattle, WA

Position Specification

Reporting To: President and Chief Executive Officer
Direct Reports: Animal Care Senior Director and General Curator; Maintenance, Operations and Capital
Projects Senior Director; Sustainability and Purchasing Manager, Security and Safety
Manager, and Executive Assistant

Location: Seattle, WA

Company Description

Woodland Park Zoo

Founded in 1899, Woodland Park Zoo sits on 92 acres in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood of north central Seattle. Last year 1.3 million on-site visitors of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities engaged in deeply memorable experiences with 300 species of animals and with each other. Online visitors to Woodland Park Zoo’s website,, now exceed annual on-site attendance. The surge of support for and engagement with Woodland Park Zoo during the pandemic reaffirmed the organization’s role as a science-based community resource, a safe place to visit, and an inclusive beacon of hope and respite. Its membership base is the largest of any cultural institution in the region.

Through the leadership of its current President, Alejandro Grajal, Ph.D., Woodland Park Zoo has articulated and committed to a new and necessary role for itself and all zoos: to save wildlife and inspire everyone to make conservation a priority in their lives. This repositions Woodland Park Zoo from a traditional role of a destination/educational organization toward a proactive conservation organization that embraces the increasingly rapid pace of societal, environmental, and technological change and its impact on our planet.
Woodland Park Zoo, like all zoos, is facing existential challenges. These challenges include animal population sustainability, animal welfare requirements, visitor experiences with zoo animals (including ambassador animals and exhibits), building & remodeling zoo exhibits, safety & security issues, and environmental sustainability factors (carbon, water, waste) that affect its core operations (building, animals, people), and data management and technology, just to name the most prominent. The Chief Zoological Officer (CZO), along with the entire senior executive team, will take the lead on engaging these issues directly, ethically, and knowledgeably, with sound business practices and humility.

The zoo’s current Strategic Plan (through 2025) addresses many of these issues, with inspiring optimism and a “call to action” around conservation and climate change. In addition, the strategic plan reaffirms the zoo’s commitment to leading the field in providing animal care of the highest quality and establishing innovative and ethically balanced approaches to zoo operations and animal welfare. Supporting this, the zoo is embarking on multiple major capital projects and infrastructure enhancements in the near term. A copy of the zoo’s Long-Term Physical Development Plan is available here.

Scope and Responsibilities

The Chief Zoological Officer (CZO) reports directly to the President and CEO of Woodland Park Zoo and serves many of the classical functions of the zoo director; in particular, this position directs overall zoological operations in four primary areas of responsibility:

  • Animal Care, (including animal management, health, welfare, and collection planning).
  • Facilities & Maintenance, (including facilities design, construction, and general maintenance).
  • Operations Sustainability.
  • Security.

The CZO provides strategic leadership, operational coordination, and implementation plans to the Executive Leadership Team and Board of Directors to successfully support the zoo’s ambitious strategic plan. The CZO drives innovation and measures performance in all these areas. In addition, the CZO will participate in the outward-facing areas of the zoo – participation in the stewardship of donors and prospective donors, representing the zoo and its grounds and operations to the press, local and regional authorities, and others. This position provides strategic direction and leadership to operationalize the zoo’s innovative strategic vision, capital expansion, and drive to become a world-class conservation organization. The CZO will have awareness of the organization and its core capabilities and vulnerabilities to drive the zoo’s mission through the support of comprehensive operational planning and implementation.

Specific Responsibilities


  • Function as a strategic advisor to the President and CEO and Executive Leadership Team (ELT) regarding key operational issues, including animal care, infrastructure, safety, compliance, and environmental sustainability. incorporated into zoo operations.
  • With the President and CEO and the ELT, develop a clear vision for the future of the organization: maintaining a long-term, big-picture view of the organization and identifying the long-term, future needs, and opportunities. The CZO will anticipate evolution and future trends and how the zoo and its operations must adapt to advance its mission.
  • Work collaboratively with the Chief People Officer to ensure that the zoo staff within the purview of the CZO are motivated, engaged, encouraged, and measured and that their actions reflect the values of Woodland Park Zoo. Provide leadership and inspiration to the entire staff dedicated to zoo operations to create an environment of diversity, respect, and dignity while constantly promoting the organization’s vision, culture, and mission both internally and externally.
  • Lead planning for and overseeing execution and completion of the immediate and very large capital expansion and capital replacement plans.
  • Direct the development and implementation of the zoo and its grounds’ organization-wide operational plans, policies, and practices in accordance with the stated zoo mission, strategic vision, and values.
  • Develop comprehensive outcome-based plans, including forecasting tools and measurement indicators for Animal Care, Facilities, Sustainability, and Security, while supporting organizational impacts toward our drive for social change for conservation.
  • Work collaboratively with the Vice President of Conservation and Climate Initiatives to advance shared goals around public engagement in conservation.
  • Together with the CFO, ensure that the zoo’s operational financial activities are sound and that best practices are embraced, maximizing income and profitability where possible. Collaborate with the CFO to support budgeting, financial planning, and reporting for areas of responsibility and ensure that these processes coordinate with the overall organization.
    Clearly communicate the organization’s vision and goals; excite, and energize people behind the vision and direction, building consensus and collaboration.


  • Directly responsible for leading managers and employees of four primary departments: Animal Care, (including animal management, health, welfare, and collection planning), Facilities & Maintenance, (including facilities design, construction, and general maintenance), Operations Sustainability, and Security.
  • Leverage complex operational systems of people and processes and align them with vision and strategy. Develop effective management tools for operational areas.
  • Manage the transition to a culture of performance measures to ensure organizational success in areas of responsibility. Coordinate with others in the zoo to support operational impacts and a culture of conservation. Implement and lead a continuous quality improvement process, focusing on systems and process improvement. Analyze data to ascertain how operations are performing with the ability to make calculated recommendations using data and trends when adjustments to the operating model are necessary.
  • Coordinate with the CFO to ensure that capital project contracting and reporting internally and to external stakeholders are clear and accurate.
  • Direct, motivate and develop team members toward a culture that is responsive, service-oriented, and flexible, upholding the highest level of DEI practices.
  • Work closely with the Engagement, Business, and Development teams and other stakeholders to raise funds to meet zoo goals.Assure compliance with accreditation and certification needs, as well as security and safety requirements at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Lead the operations of complex park-like infrastructure, while providing oversight of animal management responsibilities.
  • Oversee departmental budgets as well as ensure appropriate attention to time and efforts toward grants, projects, and compliance.
  • Develop and monitor business and operating plans with key partners.
  • Translate goals into operational practices and assist measurements upon implementation.
  • Dynamically lead functional areas of animal care, capital projects, facilities, maintenance, and security.
  • Ensure excellent care and welfare for the zoo’s animals. Create short and long-term operational plans to increase the sustainability of zoo animal populations, in coordination with AZA and other population sustainability partners.
  • Coach, mentor, and empower department leaders for supportive workflows, create and enhance employee career path opportunities while supporting a culture of accountability and open communication as well as a commitment to the zoo’s core values.
  • Oversee effectiveness of operational policies and procedures including industry compliance and accreditations.
  • Manage operational and financial aspects of exhibit design, development, and construction, while creating partnerships with board committees, external partners, contractors, and interpreters.
  • Implementation of the Zoo Sustainability Plan, and promotion of environmentally sustainable and conservation methods in all aspects of the zoo’s operations.
  • Ensure all aspects of safety, security, and risk management, by providing plans, policies, procedures, training, and compliance requirements.
  • Manage operations in the context of the unionized and non-unionized workforce. In collaboration with the Chief People Officer, oversee the periodic negotiation of Collective Bargaining Agreements.


  • Foster strong relationships with key institutions, individuals, and stakeholders to harness support, create a positive environment for the zoo, and enhance the organization’s impact. Build a positive image and create public awareness of and interest in Woodland Park Zoo.
  • Engage in professional societies or networks to foster strong relationships with key partner organizations, individuals, and stakeholders to harness support, create a positive environment for the zoo, and enhance its organizational impact.
  • Establish and maintain a strong, effective partnership with Board members to foster a culture of collaboration, cooperation, and consultation. Prepare materials for the Board as needed. Directly support the Board’s Animal Care Committee and the Concept & Design Task Force.
  • Stay abreast of important trends (including policy changes, technological, social, and economic) that could potentially impact the organization and its operations.

Key Selection Criteria

The ideal candidate will have experience as the director of an accredited zoo or related organization, or senior management experience within a major zoo or aquarium, scientific or cultural visitor-focused organization in the United States. He or she will have the experience and skills to provide leadership to the animal care and curatorial team and have the breadth and scope of management potential to operate collegially and cooperatively within a large corporate structure with complex strategies and aspirational goals.

Because the CZO will have oversight, planning, and operational responsibility over a set of large, complex capital projects, already funded and in the planning stages, the ideal candidate will have a proven ability to manage large, complex capital projects, with the ability to engage in value engineering and within the context of modern zoo practices, is essential.

Hands-on knowledge of and comfort with change management is essential.

The CZO will possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited college or university in management, engineering, architecture, science or administration, and/or related field; fifteen (15) or more years of professional operational experience at a complex park-like facility; and eight (8) or more years of direct supervisory and management experience of professional staff; and/or an equivalent combination of education and experience.

  • The ideal candidate will also demonstrate, through successful past experience:
  • Success in building partnerships with individuals, local communities, contractors, and partners to develop and implement conservation initiatives.
  • Strong intercultural skills are necessary to develop rapport with traditional and non-traditional audiences and partners.
  • Excellent interpersonal, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills.
  • Experience with organized labor including operating under and negotiating Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).
  • Working knowledge of additional languages beyond American English, preferred.

Personal / Professional Attributes

  • Ability to read and analyze financial reports, contracts, and legal documents. Ability to respond to inquiries or complaints from zoo visitors, regulatory agencies, or community members.
  • Ability to display sensitivity, tact, and responsiveness in various situations and maintain a high level of confidentiality.
  • Ability to collaborate with the President & CEO on all operational and strategic issues as they arise; provide strategic recommendations based on analysis and projections. Participate in the ongoing strategic planning process as an integral member of the executive leadership team.
  • Set an example of a visible, transparent, and accessible executive, reflecting the culture and values of the organization.
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills with the ability to adapt communication-based on audience and purpose with inclusivity. Ability to disseminate information effectively to appropriate levels.
  • Ability to listen, give and receive feedback in a productive and professional manner. Able to translate vision into planning and implementation.
  • Excellent organizational skills with the ability to balance and prioritize multiple tasks and requests and meet deadlines in a professional manner.
  • Ability to evaluate problems and effectively solve them in a timely manner. Respond to concerns with empathy and inclusivity. Respond appropriately to conflict.
  • Ability to delegate responsibilities, work with others, and coach employees to develop their full potential. Provide helpful, behaviorally specific feedback to others. Regularly meet with employees to review their development progress and express confidence in their abilities to be successful. Engage team members in open and honest communication.
  • Ability to anticipate needs and challenges, take initiative, ask questions, and provide solutions to achieve organizational objectives.
  • Ability to identify and suggest changes that promote positive impacts with a lens for diversity and inclusion.
  • Ability to ensure the strategic vision becomes alive through departmental operations, processes, and policies. Identify the need for change, envision change, and empower employees as champions of change culture. Provide clear vision and communication regarding change.
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team within diverse teams and environments while treating everyone with respect.
  • Ability to communicate complex information in a way that is understandable and engaging to broad audiences; comfortable speaking to groups in a variety of settings.
  • Ability to participate and/or initiate external team interaction, such as working with board committees, attending zoo events, and fundraising events.
  • Ability to work a flexible schedule, which may include evenings, weekends, and/or holidays.

Contact Information

James Abruzzo
Managing Partner, Global Nonprofit Practice
New York, NY
T: +1 (212) 883-6800
M: +1 (973) 885-5447
E: [email protected]

Michele Counter
Raleigh, NC
M: +1 (919) 244-1201
E: [email protected]

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