What makes a good nursing manager? It is unfortunate in the nursing profession that many nurses are promoted into administrative positions with little to no training in management. They may be offered positions on the basis of their clinical skills alone – skills which may or may not translate into the skills necessary to be effective in their new roles. Management is a discipline in itself. It is not intuitive, but like any new field of study, must be taught. The ability to competently take care of patients is not the ability to manage people. If our nursing managers only have their own poor role models to learn from, they cannot be effective and simply pass poor management on to the next generation.
My best nursing managers were those who understood that management is not about power and control. It’s about motivation and leadership. My job as a nursing manager was to make it possible for my staff to do theirs. That meant that my role was not solely to supervise and discipline – it was also to support. A good nursing manager champions staff achievements, praises publicly while criticizing privately, and addresses concerns by truly listening to the experiences of those on the front lines. A good manager fights for her (his) subordinates.
A good manager creates the safest possible workplace by correcting system failures that set nurses up to make mistakes. And when errors do occur, a good manager looks at all contributing factors with an eye to improving procedural safeguards. A good manager understands that nurses who make unintentional human errors are secondary victims. They address the remorse and fear their nurses feel in such circumstances. They have their backs and their nurses know it. That breeds loyalty. Their staff feels safe admitting mistakes because they know their manager will support them and fight for them. Staff nurses will walk through fire to have the back of a manager who gets this.
As an attorney representing nurses it is bitterly disappointing to me that so many of our nursing managers do not understand this. Too many nursing bosses simply throw their nurses under the bus with adverse events. They put the entire weight of system failures on the shoulders of a nurse who was unable to overcome human limitations. When the nurses are brought up on disciplinary charges by the board of nursing, these managers will not even speak on their behalf. It’s cowardly and shameful.
If you are a nursing manager you wear two hats. You are a representative of the organization. But you are also a leader to your nurses. Your staff looks to you for advocacy. Be a gladiator for them and not just a good soldier for the organization.