The TOP 10 Qualities of a Good Nurse Manager
1. The number-one quality a good nurse manage must have : respect staff as professionals
Nothing is worse than being treated like a child in the work-place. A manager who disrespects her staff, especially in front of others, loses staff respect in return. Nurse managers should refrain from micromanagement; nurses are professionals who can think for themselves. Restraining or limiting nurses because of a lack of trust is deadly to the relationship between staff and manager. Nursing autonomy is promoted at the professional level; it must be promoted at the managerial level as well.
2. Set standards and a clear professional example.
Nurses are expected to behave professionally, and the same holds true for managers. A nurse manager needs to be professional in her appearance, language, and behavior, just as a staff nurse must be. Coming to work disheveled or inappropriately dressed, using improper language, or failing to follow standards for attendance or behavior are a few examples of the do-what-I-say-and-not-what-I-do double standard. What goes for the nurse must go for the manager.
3. Be organized, yet creative and flexible.
Many workers have unusual organizational methods, but employees are effected when a nurse manager can't find an evaluation or forgets a deadline. The manager needs to be organized in a way that her staff can follow. She also needs to establish clear rules that she must be willing to adjust when necessary. For example, if a nurse's child has a school event that conflicts with the posted schedule, the manager must understand its importance and try to resolve the dilemma. Of course, the manager must also recognize when staff members abuse such flexibility and set limits accordingly.
4. Be an effective decision maker, as well as a conflict and crisis manager.
The nursing staff expects the manager to make intelligent decisions when conflicts and problems arise. For example, managers should expect employees to attempt to resolve conflicts among them-selves. But manager needs to realize that she might be asked to assist. No one likes confrontations, but nurse managers who shrink from problems will only create more discord among the staff. When a serious problem arises on the unit, the nurse manager is looked to for leadership and support. If the manager responds by disappearing, crying, or exploding, the staff has diminished resources for handling problems. Timeliness is another factor. If the nurse manager judges too quickly or delays decisions, the entire unit suffers. Nursing staff and administrators agree that the ability to make good decisions is essential for a successful nurse manager.
5. Motivate and empower staff
Change is a necessary part of business, even the business of health care. The nurse manager needs to find ways to motivate and involve staff. If a nurse manager displays a hopeless, cynical, or dispassionate attitude, so will the staff nurses. The effective nurse manager is involved with the nursing staff on all levels, welcomes their input, and works with them to ensure excellence, create autonomy, and increase job satisfaction and opportunities for advancement.
6. Have a good sense of humor
Nursing is one of the toughest and most stressful jobs around. Tension can become so overwhelming that laughing is the only alternative to crying. An affective manager understands this; we are all human, and sometimes appropriate humor can be the healthiest and most compassionate way to help staff and patients cope.
7. Be honest, fair, consistent, and reasonable
Lying is one of the quickest ways to break someone's trust, as is showing favoritism toward particular members of the staff. Deceit of any kind is devastating to the relationship between manager and staff. A good nurse manager knows that consistency matters-working for an unpredictable manager escalates tension and inhibits work. Being unreasonable in expectations and day-to-day dealings can also be harmful. A manager who wants to have an effective and cohesive team needs to be up front, realistic, and fair when it comes to interactions and expectations. Honest, sincere communication is always the best practice.
8. Be reliable resource and staff advocate
A nurse manager needs to have a solid clinical background, preferably in the specialty of the staff. Administrators often feel this is not necessary as long as the manager possesses strong managerial skills. From a staff nurse's perspective, however, respect is lost if the manager is out of touch with what the specialized nursing staff does. The manager also needs to support nursing staff. A manager who does not back up staff loses their respect. A manager who supports staff and is an advocate for them gains loyalty.
9. Be available and accessible to staff
Admittedly, meetings and other managerial responsibilities are important, but the nursing staff needs to know that the manager is available when needed. Acknowledging and incorporating staff suggestions, whenever possible, is also important to nurses.
10. Be a great communicator
Effective communication is one of the most important tools for a leader or manager. Information should be conveyed in a clear manner. Staff should be informed of expectations and upcoming changes (not reprimanded after they've unknowingly done it wrong), be given timely and accurate information and updates, be listened to, and receive positive feedback, one of the most frequent complaints from nurses is that their managers only talk to them when they are in trouble. The nursing professions has a reputation for "eating its young," and breaking this cycle can begin with positive interactions from the nurse manager.
While it's the responsibility of the nurse manager to develop these qualities, staff nurses have a role in fulfillment of the top-10 list as well. What can staff nurses do to support these qualities in their nurse managers?
First, seek educational and practice opportunities to develop these attributes personally.
Second , communicate honestly with the nurse manager about your professional needs. Let the manager know what it is you need to be successful in providing good nursing care.
Third, patiently allow for mistakes and misjudgments, just as you would like manager to do for you. Above all, show respect, support, and appreciation especially when the manager has exhibited or practiced one of the qualities of a great nurse manager.
It's logical that a good nurse manager will attract and retain nurses, and a bad one will drive them away. In light of the current nursing shortage, this issue becomes particularly important. What separates the good from the bad? Nurse managers who want to keep nurses will make it a priority to find out. Staff nurses who want good nurse managers will make it a priority to help them become so.
By Sandra A. Thompson, RN., BSN.
AMERICAN JOURNAL NURSING, AGUST 2004, VOL. 104, NO. 8.