Nurse Manager: Leading the Nurse Profession into the Future

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Nurse manager smiling

When about 500,000 registered nurses retire in the coming decade, they won’t just leave a void in much-needed clinical care positions. Their departures will deplete the pool of nurse managers – the experienced professionals who bridge the gap between bedside care and administrative roles.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the need for some 1.1 million new registered nurses to meet the new demand and replace retirees, many in management positions. Nurses who plan to transition from management roles require skills that combine clinical expertise and leadership. Nurse managers are responsible for supervising nursing staff in a hospital or clinical setting. They oversee patient care, make management and budgetary decisions, set work schedules, coordinate meetings, and make decisions about personnel.

“The nurse manager is responsible for creating safe, healthy environments that support the work of the health care team and contribute to patient engagement. The role is influential in creating a professional environment and fostering a culture where interdisciplinary team members are able to contribute to optimal patient outcomes and grow professionally,” the American Organization of Nurse Executives said.

Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program provides registered nurses with the skills to advance in their careers and an opportunity to play a role in furthering healthcare for future generations. The MSN program builds on baccalaureate-level practices to prepare graduates for advanced practice and management positions. Duquesne’s three areas of MSN specialization — Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner, Forensic Nursing and Nursing Education and Faculty Role – allow registered nurses to choose their path.

Duties as a Nurse Manager and Leader

Nurses who serve in management positions are expected to not only make vital decisions to assist in patient care but are also expected to carry out defined duties that include the following:

  • Staff management
  • Case management
  • Treatment planning
  • Recruitment
  • Budgeting
  • Scheduling
  • Discharge planning
  • Mentoring
  • Developing educational plans
  • Records management

Nurse managers need strong communication and leadership skills. They should be adept at coordinating resources and personnel and meeting goals and objectives. They must be effective leaders who can strike a balance between working with the nursing staff and the healthcare facility administrators.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said nurse managers are change agents. They work with staff to find and implement useful changes to improve patient wellness and safety outcomes. Nurse managers also implement regulatory guidelines for patient safety set by state and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Joint Commission, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. They have to make sure the staff is educated on care standards and can implement them as needed.

Nurse managers work in a number of clinical settings including hospitals, doctor’s offices, schools, and psychiatric institutions.

“Nurse managers lead their unit staff in preventing patient harm in their unit, empowering nurses to be the first line of defense against patient harm,” the agency reported.

Traits of a Successful Nurse Manager

Working as a nurse manager requires skills beyond clinical care. The job requires management skills, budgeting, and business acumen and leadership qualities. Communications and interpersonal skills are also vital. The following characteristics are common among successful nurse managers:
Effective Communication Skills – Part of being an effective leader is listening to staff and patient concerns and communicating needs. Nurse managers must be able to build a solid rapport with all staff members, from the janitorial staff to head administrators, as well as patients to create cohesiveness.

  • Advocacy – In some cases, nurse leaders might have to advocate for staff to ensure a safe and reasonable practice environment. In other cases, they might have to advocate for patient safety and access to quality healthcare. Nurse managers should not be afraid of using their voice and position.
  • Participation – With so many administrative demands, it is important that nurse managers balance business with patient care. Nurse managers must have superior clinical skills to ensure patient safety and wellbeing.
  • Mentoring – Successful nurse leaders do not micromanage their staff. They encourage, empower, mentor, and find strengths. They boost creativity and mindfulness.
  • Maturity – Nurse managers do not immediately take sides in squabbles or assess blame before knowing all the facts. They don’t let simmering emotions boil over. Instead, they meet conflict and work through it.
  • Professionalism – Nurse managers follow their moral compass to ensure all aspects of the profession are met with honesty and integrity. They address people with respect and do not bully.
  • Supportive – They don’t set the bar for expectations unreasonably high. Instead, they use supportive encouragement to challenge employees to success. They coach and mentor.

The Future of Nurse Managers

As the current nursing workforce ages and retires, the anticipated shortage of nurses will create opportunities for newly minted nurse managers. Researchers have found that nurse managers are vital to overall nurse retention because they influence the quality of work and the stability of a work environment.

“Strong leadership qualities in the nursing unit manager have been associated with greater job satisfaction, reduced turnover intention among nursing staff, and improved patient outcomes. Nurse leaders need to be supported in an effort to retain nurses given ongoing workforce issues and to ensure high-quality patient care,” researchers said in the 2014 “Leadership skills for nursing unit managers to decrease intention to leave” study.

Researchers found there must be cohesive relationships among staff members and better communications with staff for nurse managers to do a better job in the future. Continual changes in healthcare and a focus on costs are among the many things that make the role of nurse manager challenges.

Nursing professionals at Florida Atlantic University encouraged leaders to “challenge their thinking and practices to recognize that the crux of leadership is in the power of relationships.”

“Growing future nurse leaders is a long-term quest that requires both planning and action,” authors of the “Growing Nurse Leaders: Their Perspectives on Nursing Leadership and Today’s Practice Environment” study found. “Our emerging leaders will ultimately replace our current leaders and continue the very important work being done to improve nursing practice environments, and most importantly, patient outcomes. Yet succession planning is challenging today in a healthcare environment that is fast-paced and constantly changing.”

Students working toward an online MSN degree at Duquesne University are trained for the role of the nursing leaders. The program provides a broad-based nursing education that allows students to assume managerial roles and effectuate future changes in the profession. The online MSN program allows students to take nursing classes remotely and learn from leaders in the field while continuing their careers as registered nurses.

About Duquesne’s Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program

The Duquesne University School of Nursing is top-ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs. The MSN program offers three areas of specialization: Forensic Nursing, Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Education and Faculty Role.


American Organization for Nursing Leadership, “Nurse Executive Competencies”
Johnson&Johsnon Nursing, “Nurse Manager”
Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality, “Role of the Nurse Manager” 
Dove Press, “Leadership study: Leadership skills for nursing unit managers to decrease intention to leave”
American Nurse Association, “Growing Nurse Leaders: Their Perspectives on Nursing Leadership and Today’s Practice Environment”