Top 5 Nurse Manager Skills

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Written by Alexa Davidson, MSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A lead nurse displaying the right nurse manager skills as she huddles with her nursing team.

You’re searching for a nurse leader who has what it takes to represent a nursing unit, but what makes a good nurse manager? You’re looking for a fearless leader who will advocate for patients and staff, yet isn’t afraid to balance a budget.

Is it possible to hire a nurse manager with the right balance of clinical and business skills? Yes, it is, as long as you know what to look for in the hiring process. Read about the top five nurse manager skills that make for a successful leader.

Nurse Manager Roles and Responsibilities

Nurse managers are the bridge between clinical staff and healthcare administration. On a day-to-day basis, they’re responsible for overseeing the unit’s operations. They handle tasks like:

  • hiring and retaining nursing staff
  • responding to patient and family concerns
  • implementing facility-based policies
  • overseeing the schedule and approving shift requests
  • conducting staff performance reviews
  • sticking to a budget that keeps a nursing unit running, like ordering supplies and approving overtime

At a high level, managers are aware of the patient census and nurse staffing in the unit on a given shift. They work closely with physicians to plan patient movement in and out of the unit.

Outside of the unit, nurse managers collaborate with other healthcare leaders to discuss daily operations. They’re frequently in contact with the director of nursing (DON), nursing supervisors, and other nurse managers to keep the wheels turning.

Nursing management examples include leadership roles in hospitals, long-term care facilities, or doctor’s offices. In any of these settings, managing nurses is just one piece of the puzzle. Nurse managers keep a big-picture perspective by maintaining a close working relationship with different hospital departments such as environmental or dietary services, risk management, and human resources.

What Makes a Good Nurse Manager?

The minimum qualifications for a nurse manager are at least two years of clinical experience and a bachelor’s degree. Most healthcare facilities prefer a master’s degree in a related field, such as business administration or nursing.

Beyond education and training, a good nurse manager makes their colleagues feel seen and heard. Whether this relates to administrators or staff nurses, nurse managers follow through with commitments. Read which skills are the most important for achieving this.

Essential Nurse Manager Skills

According to the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), a nurse manager should have expertise in these three areas to be successful in the role:

  • The science of business management: strategic and financial management, performance improvement, technology
  • The art of leading people: relationship management, diversity, human resources, shared decision making
  • The leader within: understanding your own leadership style, personal and professional accountability, career growth

Let’s break these nursing leadership skills down into practical examples. Here are five nurse manager skills that make for a successful leader.

1. Effective Communication

A valued characteristic of a good leader is clear communication. Nurse managers are often responsible for announcing new initiatives or policies to staff. It’s their responsibility to set the expectation for tasks staff will carry out, so being clear from the start is crucial.

When managing staff, there will be situations where managers tell nurses things they don’t want to hear. They can earn their respect by staying direct, clear, and consistent.

2. Objective Decision Making

Every nurse manager has strengths and weaknesses, and managing a group of nurses is one way to put them on display. A good leader doesn’t take things personally.

They’ll face plenty of decisions that make people unhappy, but staying objective helps to overcome difficult decisions. Only the manager knows what’s best for the unit, and sometimes it’s appropriate to take a business-first approach.

3. Nursing Expertise

Clinical nursing experience isn’t a mandatory prerequisite for all nurse manager positions, but it helps. In moments of quick thinking, clinical judgment informs a nurse’s autonomous decision-making.

Nurse managers follow a similar process. Take for example a staffing crunch — what will it mean to float a nurse when the assignments are already tight? A nurse manager should have a clear understanding of how their decisions affect patient safety.

4. Commitment to Excellence

Nurse managers are the change agent for workflow solutions that improve patient care, which is why a commitment to excellence is one of the most crucial nurse manager skills. It’s their duty to demonstrate this commitment regularly so their nurses do, too.

Managers should be prepared to explain why new policies and procedures benefit patients. High standards of care, such as infection prevention strategies, save lives.

5. Adaptability

The transition into a nurse manager role is a major adjustment. Relationships with colleagues change as they shift into an authoritative position. Nurse managers must also find a balance between a clinical and business mindset. It may be an adjustment to focus on things like financial management, human resources, and strategic planning.

A strong leader has the ability to adapt to change as it comes. Healthcare is constantly changing, and if anyone can handle curveballs, it’s a nurse.

Hire the Best Leader for Your Facility

Is your healthcare facility experiencing nurse manager turnover? IntelyCare is a staffing partner that brings you trained, competent nurses who are ready to work. Let IntelyCare lighten your load by taking on nurse staffing, letting your leaders focus on building their nurse manager skills.