What Makes an Effective Nurse Manager?

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A nurse leader in a lab coat smiling and working at a desk with paperwork and computer.

Currently, the country is experiencing an ongoing shortage of registered nurses (RNs). The majority of that is due to many RNs either switching careers or exiting the workforce, such as through retirement. Because of this, many new registered nurses will be entering the workforce for the foreseeable future, which makes it all the more important to have skilled and competent nurse managers in place to oversee them.

It’s important for prospective leaders in nursing to know what makes an effective nurse manager. The role is a hybrid position that blends traditional managerial duties while also serving as a mentor to less experienced RNs. To be successful, nurse managers should possess leadership skills, people skills and have significant clinical experience.

Nurse managers play a vital role in achieving organizational goals and positive patient outcomes. To help nurse managers reach their fullest potential, healthcare organizations are investing in nurse manager training and professional development more than ever before. For instance, many nurse managers pursue the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) credential as a means of solidifying their nursing leadership skills.

Nurses who have earned Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees and are working in leadership positions understand more than anyone else why nurse manager training is necessary. DNP-educated nurses hold executive positions with the authority and power to provide opportunities for nurse managers to flourish.

Qualities of a Nurse Manager

Effective nurse managers can inspire and lead their team of nurses, especially during difficult times when the demand for healthcare and nursing services exceeds the supply. The most desired qualities of a nurse manager include the following.

  • Leadership: Nurse managers do far more than simply make schedules. They must serve as inspiration and role models to their team of RNs. Nurse managers effectively set the tone for their entire department.
  • Organization: The world of healthcare moves fast, which means nurse managers need to be highly organized and efficient. This means ensuring their healthcare facility is sufficiently staffed at all times, that all patient records are properly maintained and that time is managed effectively.
  • Communication: Effective nurse managers are expert communicators. Their directions to RNs are clear and concise, and they always keep their lines of communication open for feedback.
  • Experience: Since nurse managers are mentors to RNs who are just entering the healthcare field, experience is an absolute must to ensure the highest quality patient care is being delivered.

These four qualities are part of what makes an effective nurse manager capable of leading and developing a team of RNs.  

Nurse Manager Training

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), nurse managers impact a unit’s culture and ability to change. They support patient and staff safety, or what the AHRQ calls a Comprehensive Unit-Based Safety Program (CUSP).

“Nurse managers are change agents on their unit. They work with staff to initiate new policies and procedures that help the unit team achieve their quality improvement goals and sustain their CUSP efforts. 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 AHRQ said in its CUSP toolkit.

The AHRQ said the nurse manager’s role is multifaceted, supporting the contention that extensive nurse manager training is needed. Some of the nurse manager’s responsibilities include:

Managing employees

Nurse managers are responsible for hiring, training and firing staff nurses, so they must work closely with human resources.

Providing professional development

Nurse managers should be alert to professional development opportunities on their unit and follow through with training options.

Maintaining customer-focused care

Nurse managers should ensure that all patient needs are met and that their staff delivers attentive quality care.

Overseeing financial aspects

Nurse managers oversee all the finances of their unit to ensure expenses stay within budget. Expenses traditionally include staff salaries, supplies, operational costs, equipment and more.

Aligning the unit with hospital strategic goals

Nurse managers make sure staff members understand the institution’s goals and encourage their nurses to participate in initiatives and projects.

4 Tips for Nurse Manager Development

The authors of the Nurse Manager’s Guide to Retention and Recruitment said nurse managers have one of the toughest jobs in nursing, so they deserve the support of their leaders and executives. Many employers (such as hospitals and medical centers), as well as professional organizations — such as the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) — offer formal leadership training programs as guidance.

The authors of the Nurse Manager’s Guide to Retention and Recruitment ­­— June Marshall, DNP; Cole Edmonson, DNP; and Victoria England, BSN — stated leaders should also establish other programs that can foster nurse manager growth. Some of these programs may include the following.

1. Nurse leadership programs

Many aspiring nurse managers possess the clinical experience the role demands. However, effective leadership also is part of what makes nurse managers effective. The ANA and the AONE both offer nursing leadership development programs that help develop the skills nurse managers need to lead a team of RNs. 

2. Nurse executive fellowship

Offered through the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), this interactive nine-month program is intended for individuals who are new to nursing leadership roles. Not only does the program provide enhanced training delivered by experienced nursing leaders, it also offers the opportunity to develop a professional network of peers. 

3. Mentorships

One-on-one mentorships help nurse managers as they ease into and grow in their positions. A manager’s needs change over time, and so should the network of colleagues who can help.

4. Reflective learning environments

Reflective learning allows nurse managers to solve problems through careful consideration and peer support. Nurse managers use critical-thinking skills to develop creative solutions.

The authors of the nurse manager’s guide also stated that nurse manager competencies are crucial to both individual and unit success.

“Nurse managers also have greater ability to engage their teams in problem-solving, decision making, and accountability for unit outcomes, if they personally demonstrate confidence and competence in their leadership roles, or in other words, lead by example,” the authors wrote.

Become a Nurse Manager with a Degree from Duquesne University

As top executives in healthcare, DNP-educated RNs are often responsible for overseeing an entire nursing staff at a hospital or medical center. In that role, nurse executives need dependable nurse managers. Training and development are what make an effective nurse manager successful and enable them to tackle even the most difficult situations.

RNs who are considering a career as an executive who oversees nurse managers should seek a DNP degree with a curriculum that focuses on leadership skills. At Duquesne University, RNs who are pursuing a DNP take coursework in preparation for evidence-based leadership practices and can choose between two tracks: Clinical Leadership, and Executive Nurse Leadership and Healthcare Management.

Duquesne University has been recognized as a leader in nursing education, most recently listed among the “Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs” by U.S. News & World Report. The online DNP program provides one-on-one faculty mentorships and a 100% online curriculum.

Explore the online DNP program at Duquesne University and start your career as a nurse leader today.

Recommended Readings

Nursing Career Paths and Advancement Guide Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician: Examining the Key Differences

DNP vs. NP: Comparing Career Paths in Nursing


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, CUSP Toolkit, The Role of the Nurse Manager, Facilitator Notes

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, The CUSP Method

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Certified Nurse Manager and Leader Certification

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, AONL Education Programs

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Nurse Executive Fellowship

Avant Healthcare Professionals, “What to Look for When Hiring a Great Nurse Manager”

Health Leaders, “Nurse Manager’s Guide to Retention and Recruitment”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses