Nurse Manager vs. Nurse Leader: Which Are You?

By nature, the role of a nurse is one of leadership. Nurses are expected to lead colleagues, oversee care teams, and take responsibility for patient care outcomes. These responsibilities are expected with or without a management title. Regardless of the practice setting, nurses are looked to for guidance and assurance. Some nurses will spend an entire career leading amongst the ranks, while others will step into a manager role. Make no mistake, management and leadership roles are very different. While the titles may be used interchangeably by some, these two roles are not the same.

What Does A Nurse Manager Do?

A nurse manager is a task-oriented role that is best suited for someone who is well organized, whose day is best run by a set schedule, who delegates well, and who follows up to ensure the tasks are performed. The nurse manager role is designed to make sure the unit, division, or service line functions like a well-oiled machine. A typical day for a nurse manager will involve:

  • Patient care planning
  • Quality assurance and improvement
  • Goal setting
  • Budgeting
  • Nurse performance reviews and professional growth
  • Staff schedules
  • Conduct or arrange continued education opportunities

The manager ensures staff carries out daily functions properly and is held accountable for underperformance or errors.

Clear communication is expected from a nurse manager. Staff members look to the manager for direction on their roles and assigned duties.

What Does A Nurse Leader Do?

Upper-level nurse leaders are less hands-on and more dedicated to building long-term plans for a nursing team and health facility. A nurse leader focuses on setting standards, influencing nurse teams, and personifying the organization’s vision. A typical day for a nurse leader will involve:

  • Policy setting
  • Overseeing quality measures
  • Ensuring regulatory compliance
  • Financial responsibilities of the facility

Nurse leaders also play a large role in the overall satisfaction of patients, nurses, and the organization’s reputation within the community. Staff and managers look to nurse leaders as a source of knowledge and for their vision.

Nurse Managers And Leaders: Room For Both

Nurse managers and leaders complement each other, but both positions should be filled with individuals who are knowledgeable and respected in their craft. Each needs to be passionate about providing quality care and offering a learning environment for other staff. Both managers and leaders:

  • Should motivate through positive reinforcement and lead by example
  • Must be committed to the organization and their team
  • Should be decisive, be a strong delegator, and be able to coordinate a strong team by recognizing each staff member’s strength

It doesn’t take a title for a nurse to understand their role as a leader. Nurses all have similar goals and ultimately the same responsibility – offer the best care possible for each patient and support team members when there’s an opportunity.

Nurses must be visionaries, meeting the needs of patients before they’re asked. They must be critical thinkers, considering each angle of a problem and making an informed decision. Successful nurses are skilled communicators and teachers, and none of these skills are dependent.

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