5 Tips for First-Time Nurse Managers

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Nurse ManagerYou’ve worked hard, and the hard work has paid off. You’ve been promoted to nurse manager. Congratulations!

Now comes the challenging part. As you shift into your new role in nursing leadership, keep in mind a few tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

Ask questions.

Of course it’s important to communicate often with your staff and to be clear about your expectations for performance. If you don’t tell your staff what you expect of them, they won’t be able to follow through. But don’t just tell; ask. Asking questions is an effective way to make sure your message was received.

Nursing management experts Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, BSN, and Mikol Davis, Ed.D., say when people feel they’re in a “one down” position, they tend to react defensively. And when someone is on the defensive, they’re more focused on defending their position instead of listening to what’s actually being said.

If a manager asks questions for understanding, it’s an effective way to diffuse this defensiveness. Rosenblatt and Davis suggest nurse managers ask neutral questions, such as, “Does this make sense?” instead of a more loaded query such as, “Is there anyone here who doesn’t get it?” to test for understanding.


Communication is a two-way process, and active listening is a crucial skill for effective nurse managers. Listening more than speaking is a good overall communication strategy. Management researcher Bill Gentry suggests nurse managers let their staff members speak uninterrupted. Nurse managers can learn a lot from what their direct reports say about their daily frustrations or ideas for improvement.

It also doesn’t hurt to listen to yourself occasionally. A manager’s tone of voice helps command respect. If your tone of voice comes across as critical or accusatory, your staff will react defensively, say Rosenblatt and Davis. Even if your words aren’t critical or accusatory, your tone of voice conveys much more information. They recommend putting a small digital recorder in your pocket during important conversations to monitor your tone.

Be a coach.

As a manager, you’re no longer evaluated on how you perform on the job, but instead on how your staff performs. Your role shifts from being a performer to being a coach. This means giving constructive feedback to staff members on how they’re doing and how they can improve.

Gentry says the only way your staff will know whether they’re doing a good job or not is to receive both positive and developmental feedback regularly. And being a coach has its benefits, too. Research shows managers who coach and develop their staff are perceived as better managers.

Set an example.

A survey by the Center for Creative Leadership found the biggest challenge for a majority of first-time managers (59 percent) was establishing authority in the new role. As a nurse manager, you are probably supervising former peers, some of whom may be friends. You may struggle with balancing wanting to be liked with gaining respect.

Gentry recommends new managers recognize that “people’s eyes are always on them” now that they’re in this elevated role. If your actions don’t match what you say, people are less likely to follow your lead. He also cautions first-time managers to be mindful of spending more time and energy with friends over other staff members.

Get support.

If you’re feeling anxious about your new role as a nurse manager, don’t fret. Nursing management and leadership can be learned. Consider going to school to get your master’s in nursing. Many nursing degree programs are now offered online and can fit more easily into your schedule. And funding may be available through your employer.

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