How to Succeed as a Nurse Manager

When you’re in charge of dozens of nurses and you’re responsible for just about everything that happens on the hospital floor, you need to stay on your toes if you want to be an effective nurse manager.

When you’re in charge of dozens of nurses and you’re responsible for just about everything that happens on the hospital floor, you need to stay on your toes if you want to be an effective nurse manager. You’ll likely have to deal with all kinds of tough decisions throughout the day, all while caring for your patients and your staff members. Staff shortages and a limited budget can also get in the way of your ability to do your job. On the administrative side, you’ll need to create a healthy relationship with your Director of Nursing, who may have their own ideas about how to run the floor.

With so many competing interests and problems to solve, you’ll need to sharpen your leadership skill if you want to become a better nurse manager. From listening to staff concerns to learning about healthcare policy, there’s no telling what new challenges the day will bring. But with the right training and a curious mind, you can become the manager you were always meant to be. Learn how to become a more effective leader on the floor with these leadership tips.


 

The Role of the Nurse Manager

No one said being a nurse manager was going to be easy. This is an inherently difficult role where the stakes are high, and resources tend to be limited. You’ll be responsible for managing the nurses on the floor as they treat and interact with patients, while reporting back to the Director of Nursing, who oversees the entire nursing department. Typically, your responsibilities will include:

  • Staff training and management
  • Case management
  • Treatment and discharge planning
  • Talent recruitment
  • Department budgeting
  • Staff scheduling
  • Developing educational plans
  • Records management

Simply put, you’ll be in charge of just about everything that happens on the floor, providing a safe, responsible environment for your employees and their patients.

To become a nurse manager, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in nursing with at least two years’ experience working as a fully-licensed nurse practitioner. Some facilities may also require a master’s degree in nursing and some management experience. But you’ll also need to possess certain leadership skills such as communication, decision-making, and mentoring, in addition to learning as much as you can about healthcare and the nursing profession. Here are some things to keep in mind as you step into your new role as a nurse manager.


Leadership Style

Make Yourself Available

Whether it’s your first day at the hospital or you’re being promoted to nurse manager after working as a nurse, it’s important to make yourself available as you settle into your new role. While your day may be saddled with more paperwork and other administrative duties, don’t forget to spend some time interacting with the people you’re managing.

Your nurses may have questions or need advice, so showing your face on the floor will create more of an open relationship between you and your staff members. It may be tempting to hide inside your new office all day but putting a wall between you and your team can lead to blind spots. If you need to be in your office, consider keeping your door open, so your staff members can still pop in if they need to chat. 

Create an Open Dialogue with Your Supervisor

Reporting to your supervisor can be a bit intimidating, especially when you’re just starting out as a nurse manager, but instead of taking a backseat in this relationship, create an open dialogue with your Director of Nursing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk openly about the issues you’re dealing with on the floor. If you simply nod and smile during every meeting, the Director of Nursing may lose sight of what’s actually happening on the floor when they’re not around.

You also need to make sure you can reach your supervisor when the going gets tough. Try to schedule regular meetings with your Director of Nursing, so you have a chance to discuss what’s going on in your department. This also gives you more insight into what’s happening throughout the rest of facility, including budgeting, healthcare policy and other important administrative decisions.

Establish Clear Expectations

If you fail to establish your expectations for yourself and your team, you’re bound to come up empty-handed. You need to tell your staff members what you expect from them if you want them to succeed. The same goes for your own performance on the job. As you settle into your new role, start thinking about all the things your department needs to succeed. This might include a more effective scheduling system, digital resources like nursing apps and other software programs, a better continuing education program, or more staff training.

When you’re setting expectations for your team, it always helps to get it in writing, so your staff members can refer to it later on. Hold a department-wide meeting and pass out more information in terms of what you expect of your team.


Lead by Example

As you go about setting expectations for your team, don’t forget to lead by example. If you want your nurses to do better, whether it’s the way they interact with patients or how they organize the workspace, you need to embody these principles. You can’t insist that your employees keep the office organized if your office is always a mess. Your nurses will likely be rude or dismissive to patients if they see you exhibiting the same kind of behavior. Talk the talk and walk the walk, or your nurses may stop taking you seriously. 

Mentor Young Nurses

Chances are you’ve been a nurse yourself, so you know how difficult this job can be. Even if no one comes scratching at your door for advice and support, keep an eye on your nurses to make sure they’re doing okay. This is especially important for young nurses who may be struggling to keep up with the pace of the job.

Studies show 70% of nurses feel burnt out in their current job. Nurses can also struggle with the physical pain of treating patients all day. In fact, nurses are more likely to suffer a back injury than construction workers. Some nurses may be wrestling with grief and depression as they see so many patients come and go. If you want your staff and your department to succeed, be on the lookout for signs of nurse burnout and fatigue. Talk to your staff and let them know that you’re watching out for them.

Accept and Learn from Your Mistakes

You’re bound to make mistakes as you settle into your new position on the floor, considering 58 percent of managers say they don’t receive any management training. But, don’t let these mishaps take away your confidence. You need to stay positive and look towards the future as your staff members look to you for advice and support. If you’re confused or have a question, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask your supervisor for advice or clarification.


Continuing Education

Now that we’ve covered how you should approach your new leadership role, it’s time to focus on your education. Being a nurse manager means having one foot in the world of medicine and another in the business world. You need to start thinking like a business person if you want to get ahead in this industry. From new healthcare trends to calculating your department’s ROI, your training doesn’t end when you become a manager.

Understanding Healthcare Policy

As we’ve seen over the past 10 years, healthcare policy always seems to be in flux. States are always passing their own healthcare laws, while policy details are still being finalized at the federal level. If anything changes with regard to healthcare policy, you should be the first to know. A simple change in reimbursement policy or new legal issues could dramatically change the way you do your job.

Start learning about how healthcare policy affects and informs your facility’s decision-making process. You can research these issues yourself, bring them up at your next meeting with your Director of Nursing, or speak to healthcare policy experts in your area.

New Trends in Nursing

The nursing profession isn’t set in stone. New apps, nursing guidelines, digital tools, and other healthcare programs are changing the way nurses do their job. Some of these new developments can help you become a more effective manager. You can use some of these tools and ideas to improve your department.

You can attend industry events and conferences and sign up for continuing education courses to learn more about what’s happening in your profession. Keep an open mind and be on the lookout for new ideas that can alter your approach to medicine and management.

Learn the Business

A hospital is a business, after all. This means you need to learn more about how the entire industry works, from nurses on the ground to the decision-makers driving healthcare policy. Be curious and ask questions as you start interacting with other managers and directors from your facility. The more you learn about how this business works, the easier your job will be. You can meet your supervisor’s expectations once you know what their boss expects from them.

Follow the Money

One of the most important aspects of being a nurse manager is budgeting. You’re responsible for spending your department’s money so that you get the most bang for your buck. Do your research and spend some time learning about all the ways your department spends its money. You’ll need to have your facts straight if you plan on asking your supervisor for more money or resources. If your department is short on money, look for ways to cut corners without endangering your employees or their patients.


Being a nurse manager is rarely easy. You have a lot of responsibilities to keep track of and the stakes couldn’t be higher with every day being a matter of life and death. That’s why you need to be an effective leader on the floor and inspire your nurses to be the best care providers they can be. Keep in touch with your Director of Nursing and create an open dialogue with the rest of the facility, so you can get a sense of how your department fits into the scheme of things. Don’t forget to read up on the latest nursing trends and healthcare policy, so you’re always one step ahead of the curve.

Trust your instincts as a former nurse and you’ll be a better nurse manager before you know it.

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Zach Smith

Zach Smith

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