What Makes a Good Nurse Manager?

July 12, 2017


Nurse managers play an incredibly important role in modern healthcare settings, but what qualities make a nurse manager exceptional? We’re taking a look at this challenging profession and the unique set of skills managers need in order to excel.

The Role of a Nurse Manager

Nurse managers are directly responsible for overseeing care practices, directing nursing teams, handling personnel decisions and fulfilling general supervisory duties such as scheduling and budgeting.

Nurses in these management roles primarily handle the day-to-day operations of the nursing staff rather than taking part in direct patient care. These nurses usually have several years worth of experience in clinical settings, so they understand the needs and responsibilities of the nurses they manage.

How to Become a Nurse Manager

In order to become a nurse manager, you’ll need to acquire a registered nursing license along with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. Most employers require nurse managers to have at least three years of nursing experience before stepping into this demanding role.

If you haven’t obtained your BSN, you can typically complete an RN to BSN program in a year’s time.

10 Qualities of a Good Nurse Manager

  1. They’re great decision makers.

“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” — Jim Rohn

Nurse managers are tasked with making important decisions — and fast. Oftentimes, these decisions aren’t easy, and they require a rare combination of clinical experience, book smarts and common sense.

Even the best managers will have their fair share of stumbles along the way, and there’s no shame in owning up to a mistake, acquiring what you can from the experience and moving forward with a lesson learned.

  1. They’re team players.

 “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” — Steve Jobs

Your team needs to know that you get it, and the worst way to show that is by making yourself unavailable or staying hidden in your office.

Good nurse managers are out on the floor on a regular basis, interacting with their staff members and making the rounds to see how the shift is progressing.

  1. They’re excellent communicators.


Great nurse managers know how to communicate clearly and directly with each member of the team. This means setting specific objectives and goals that are understood by everyone on staff.

It also means listening to your team’s concerns and answering questions as they arise.

  1. They lead by example.

The best managers won’t hesitate to roll up their sleeves and offer to help their team with routine tasks such as med passes and IVs. Your team members need to know they can count on you, and they’ll be far more open to your feedback and leadership style if you earn their respect.

  1. They come from solid clinical backgrounds.

Leadership in and of itself is an art, but good nurse managers also bring clinical expertise to the table. These managers have at least three years of experience, so they’ve likely encountered their fair share of difficult patients and ethical dilemmas.

This helps them relate to the daily challenges faced by their team when providing direct patient care.

  1. They’re fair.

Managers face no shortage of daily challenges, and it’s easy to bend the rules here and there to make a situation easier for everyone involved. The only way to be fair to your team in the long-run is by setting precise guidelines and sticking to them.

You may think that you’re doing a good thing, but diverting from your leadership style and expectations only makes you appear inconsistent.

  1. They foster a positive work environment.

Nurse managers who are negative, unhappy or experiencing burnout aren’t all that good at inspiring other nurses to seize the day. It’s important to remain positive on a day-to-day basis — even if you’re having a particularly stressful week.

Your team will look to you for a positive attitude, and they’ll mimic your optimism with patients, families and co-workers alike.

  1. The know their staff’s strengths and weaknesses.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — John Wooden

Nurse managers may supervise teams of employees, but the strongest leaders understand that teams are comprised of individuals with unique strength, talents and motivational styles.

Managers will get the most out of their employees by understanding them individually and figuring out how to best use each employee’s skill set for the betterment of the entire team.

  1. They show their appreciation.

It’s a proven fact that nurses who don’t feel appreciated at their workplaces report lower job satisfaction, and they’re far more likely to jump ship as soon as another opportunity presents itself.

Smart nurse managers know that good behavior should be rewarded, and they always take the time to acknowledge when a nurse excels at a task or goes above and beyond the call of duty.

  1. They don’t have to be liked.

“The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes.” — Tony Blair

Managers admittedly have to walk a fine line: They have to be close with their staff members while objectively overseeing their work performance; they have to supervise a team without picking favorites; and they have to make decisions that aren’t always popular.

A strong manager is wise to look at the issues from every angle, ask for input when it’s needed and explain the reasoning behind tough and divisive decisions. Effective nurse managers understand that this is the nature of the job… and they’re ready to act accordingly.

What qualities do you look for in a nurse manager? Let us know your preferences in the comments section below!

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