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5 Qualities in a Successful Nurse Manager


If you had to describe the perfect nurse manager, what qualities would he or she have? Scrubbed In weighed in on what we think are  5 of the most important characteristics of a successful nurse manager.

5 Qualities in a Successful Nurse Manager

They have one foot in the clinical world

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges nurse managers face is the bridging of fiscal and clinical responsibilities. With so many demands today on tightening budgets and consolidating resources, it’s easy to lose footing in the day-to-day realities on the unit. Skilled nurse managers are able to balance business decisions with clinical needs. Not an easy job to accomplish!

They make smart strategic decisions

As a bedside nurse, it can be hard to appreciate this skill because it’s not necessarily visible. But that doesn’t make it any less valuable. Successful managers need to balance short-term needs with long-term goals. Often these are the decisions that happen behind the scenes. And the long-term success of the unit depends on it.

They value working relationships

Effective managers know that developing and maintaining healthy work relationships is key to their success and the success of the unit. These managers practice shared governance and listen openly to input from staff. They address conflicts as they arise, directly and honestly. They support collaboration, both nurse-to-nurse and multidisciplinary. And they recognize that a healthy work environment yields better patient outcomes and a happier and more fulfilled nursing staff.

They lead with integrity

Those that lead with integrity uphold their own professional accountability. They ask of themselves, “What role am I playing in this situation?” They identify their values and then use those values as a compass to stay on course. And they’re honest. Leading with integrity doesn’t always mean doing what your staff wants you to do. But it does mean being a straight shooter when it comes to explaining the rationale behind a decision.

They don’t bully (or tolerate bullying)

Nurse managers who rule with fear or with passive-aggression cannot be successful in the long-term. Nurses who don’t feel supported have decreased job satisfaction and a higher likelihood of leaving their job (or the profession!). Great nurse managers use their power to set the bar high, to challenge employees to perform at their best, to coach and to mentor. They don’t abuse that power, and they have zero tolerance for abuse in the workplace on any level.

Do you have a nurse manager who embodies these leadership qualities? What would you add to our list?

19 Comments Post a comment

    I am looking forward to being a nurse manager some day and i like what am reading here.i hope when my goal comes true i will be the best nurse manager ever.i agree a good working relationship is always key to a successful nursing work is very important and a manager who is an active listener to her staff will always be successful.

    June 25, 2014
  2. Being an effective manager it’s critical to have strong interpersonal skills that are self driven. Secondly, set structure for the unit and be firm. Lastly, demonstrate your skills that you are a team player so you set the tone for employees.

    February 1, 2014
  3. breda winters #

    I am a nurse manager working in Ireland,and have for several years.I have worked my way up through the ranks and know the workload the nurses have every day.I am not supernumerary I look after a cohort of residents myself and manage all other aspects of the ward also.I respect my staff and try to be fair in all aspects of my work ,I encourage open communication and always willing to take on new challenges to keep high standards of care.
    B Winters

    November 28, 2013
    • Meaghan O'Keeffe, RN, BSN #

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Breda. Happy to know we have some readers from across the pond!

      December 2, 2013
  4. Unqualified nurse managers are responsible for high staff turnover whether it be the nurse at the top or the one in the middle.

    September 15, 2013
  5. Valerie (Lori) Phillips #

    In 46 years of Nursing and 21 of those in the Army I have sadly only met perhaps 5 Nurse Managers that met those criteria. What we called the 3 B’s were unfortunately all too prevalent. I had a wonderful Nurse Manager in Maine who epitomizes all of the qualities that you describe and I would be the first to promote those attributes for nurses. What power they would have if they all worked together.hen I had my own practice as a CNM I enforced those principles with my staff and we all had a great rel.ationship

    September 15, 2013
  6. Respect and fairness. Being thoughtful in their actions, and not aggressive in their behaviors. Being aware of their limitations and not fearing to ask for guidance. A humble, kind person with a good work ethic.

    September 15, 2013
  7. marycarney #

    Good nurse managers have your back FIRST when a family or doc registers a complaint- they assume good intentions on your part until proven otherwise.

    September 14, 2013
  8. Geraldine Clark-Hall #

    I’m not sure what other managers do in their department, however I am one of those managers who has work in the department as a staff and I still work in the rooms as necessary or cover the staff when needed and still try and manage the department attend numerous meetings daily as well as corrective action, manage attendance.

    September 9, 2013
    • Meaghan O'Keeffe, RN, BSN #

      Geraldine, no doubt that’s a lot to juggle. Kudos to you for jumping in when your staff needs you. I’m sure it’s appreciated more than you know!

      September 10, 2013
  9. Teresa #

    I agree with the characteristics listed. A great nurse manager is able to delegate and empowers her nurses to want to advance. A great nurse manager reconizes that nurses at the bedside is the glue that makes the unit environment what it is. The one thing that is lacking with nurses at the bedside is that continuing education is not a priority and is not supported as such by administration(Ex. outside workshops,seminars, in house lectures ect). Nurses need to be given the time to continue and pursue their professional goals.

    September 9, 2013
    • Meaghan O'Keeffe, RN, BSN #

      Absolutely, Teresa! Continuing ed is a necessity and should be encouraged (and time allowed for it).

      September 10, 2013
  10. Inessa #

    I agree with the characteristics of successful nursing manager you described.

    I would like to add:
    Successful nursing manager
    supports continuous education of the staff;
    creates the atmosphere where new ideas are welcomed.

    September 8, 2013
    • Meaghan O'Keeffe, RN, BSN #

      Love these, Inessa. Open to new ideas is a MUST. As is support for continuing education.

      September 10, 2013
  11. Elizabeth #

    My nurse manager is great. She makes herself available to all shifts.( she comes in at 0640 and stays to be able to see 3-11. She listens and tries tofix problems and gets back to the person with a follow up. Makes a huge difference!!

    September 8, 2013
    • Meaghan O'Keeffe, RN, BSN #

      Elizabeth, so often we hear of the nurse managers that are ineffective. It is SO nice to know that there really are great ones out there. It’s a very difficult job, so those who do it well are really special!

      September 10, 2013
  12. Na #

    No lately nurse mangers have no experience they get leadership role because of the degree they hold. Most of them do not know or understand what the nurses duties, workload, or stress. Managers just want to meet required numbers and look good with administration. They do not evaluate nurses for their work because managers do not experience. In past manager knew the nurses duties and if necessary could fill in in the nurses until assistance was available. Instead now manager would rather be over staff than lift a finger they run to the nurses when patients approach them for help. Manager also do not support or back up the nurses are left out in the cold. Probably that is why younger nurses after a short time do not care about patients they just go to,work for the money. Until nurses are respected by their managers and administrator like in the past and the past. Nurses, nurse aids, etc no loner help patients in the hop pitfall they one give medications. I would never recommend to my granddaughters to go into nursing. Nurses are used abused and dismissed when their bodies can no longer take the abuse.

    September 8, 2013
    • Meaghan O'Keeffe, RN, BSN #

      Na, I’m sorry that this has been your experience (and I know a lot of nurses feel the same way). Unfortunately, this can be a reality. But there are other stories, like Elizabeth’s, that show it is possible to have a supportive nurse manager. I hope you have a chance to work for one and that you can find some rejuvenation in your career. I know it isn’t always pretty.

      September 10, 2013
    • D Henderson #

      You sound pretty bitter. Maybe you were unfortunate enough to have been under the management of poor nurse managers. I have worked with several that were the first to lend an extra hand and were wonderful at problem solving and nurturing their staff.

      September 10, 2013