Nurse Manager Leadership Recommendations for Staff Engagement and Success
Becoming a nurse manager is a step on the clinical ladder that many nurses hope to achieve. When leading and managing a group of nurses and ancillary staff, certain managerial traits can help boost morale, encourage teamwork, and keep staff engaged.
First, nurse managers should recognize the type of leader they are. Do they demonstrate "laissez-faire" traits, with minimal supervising taking place? Are they autocratic, making decisions that affect the group without staff input? Or participative, allowing staff to contribute to the decision-making process? There are many types of leaders, and many combinations, but a nurse manager should identify which type of leader he/she is. This will help develop strategies when interacting with the team.
For the most part, a more participative style works well in motivating staff. Allowing the staff to contribute ideas and methods to achieve goals boosts morale and fosters a “team” approach. For example, holding a staff meeting to try and find ways to reduce patient falls allows nurses on the front lines to suggest practical interventions that would work within that particular work environment.
Another tip is to set clear goals for the unit. Identifying departmental goals that align organizational goals (while involving staff) promotes teamwork. Clear goals also prevent confusion in day-to-day operations. For example, let's say the organization values reducing wasted supplies. The nurse manager, along with staff, can develop strategies to reduce waste at the departmental level, such as only keeping a certain amount of supplies in stock to avoid them outdating. The manager can implement a "rule" that only ten lab tubes are to be kept in each exam room at a time.
Successful nurse managers also foster open communication among peers and with management. An “open-door” policy works well to build trust and keep the lines of communication open. It demonstrates a genuine interest in staff and encourages nurses to verbalize concerns. When staff approach managers with issues, it keeps them apprised of the goings-on on the unit and which concerns are the most important among the group.
Nurse managers should also provide ongoing feedback to staff. Regular one on one meetings allow the manager to build a relationship with each employee, and allows for staff to bring up concerns confidentially. It also helps keep the employee apprised of his/her performance. Regular staff meetings also help bring the group together and promote cohesiveness.
Nurse managers should also treat staff with respect. Recognizing that each staff member is an individual, come from different backgrounds, and bring different qualities to the table is the first step. Nurse managers should always keep employee success in mind. For example, if a staff member is not performing well, the nurse manager should offer tools for success, not berate or speak rudely about the deficient performance. Giving respect often yields respect.
Nursing is a stressful field. Working with the same group of people every day in a stressful environment can lead to conflict. Organizing team building activities helps staff blow off steam in a healthy manner. Having a department-specific holiday party, summer picnic, cookie exchange, etc. are just a few things that help promote teamwork while having fun.
Nurse managers are people, and people make mistakes. As a leader, it’s difficult when you make a mistake as you are a resource for so many employees. Some look at it as a sign of weakness. It’s vital that, as a manager, you recognize your own limitations and errors and use it as a tool to improve for the future. Taking responsibility for errors also helps foster a positive example for employees-perhaps more employees will report errors as well.
As liaisons between the nursing staff and the organization, there are challenges that nurse managers must overcome.
One challenge is ensuring the nursing staff is adequately trained, and the units are adequately staffed. The manager must solve staffing issues by communicating directly with float staff or with a staffing office. They must approve overtime occasionally, and ask nurses to come in on their day off. Meanwhile, staff nurses may express frustration over staffing issues - often directly to the manager.
Nurse managers must also act as “cheerleaders” to motivate staff and keep them engaged. Nurses have a high rate of burnout and sometimes need extra support. Staff meetings and team-building activities help keep staff motivated, and nurse managers often act as the facilitator. On the flip-side, nurse managers must also assess and remediate staff who have difficulty or are resistant to change. This can include further education, training, and sometimes discipline. Many nurse leaders develop a close working relationship with staff, so when discipline or counseling is required, it can be difficult for them. It’s important to take a step back and look at the big picture - many times discipline is required for the good of patient care and the organization.
Nurse managers must also meet the needs of their organization, including metrics and state/federal requirements. Performance measures need to be examined and improved upon frequently.