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Leadership versus Management in a Nursing Environment

Career News June 29, 2013

In a nursing environment, there are clear distinctions between a leader and a manager. While a manager has generally been given, or delegated authority that is not necessarily true of a leader. A nurse can be a leader because of his or her skills or personality. These are not traits that have been delegated. Learning the differences in management versus leadership can help nurses become both a better manager and a good leader, and therefore, a better nurse.


Leadership is usually identified with focus and vision. Leaders tend to influence those around them in a positive manner. In a nursing environment, this influence is not just limited to peers. Nursing leadership can have some of its greatest impact on patients and their families.

Management can be defined as a system for the best use of resources. While resources includes items like funding, facilities, and supplies, management’s most critical resource is its people. Management has control of all of these resources, but is best served by using its interpersonal skills to help manage its people. It is in managing these human resources that leadership has its greatest impact.

Impact on Patients

The management versus leadership discussion without question affects patient care. Efficient and effective management can make sure staffing levels are sufficient, and the right combinations of skill sets are available. Management obviously also has an impact on timeliness of care, record keeping, and patient follow-up. Effective management can also make sure there are nursing leaders placed on shifts for effective guidance of less experienced staff. The impact of a well-managed team on the patient experience cannot be over-stated.

Nursing leaders can also have a profound effect on patient care. While nurses are most often viewed as care-takers, nursing leaders help empower patients to take ownership and responsibility for their care. This empowerment can not only help the patient in their current situation, but in going forward into the future. A nurse may care for a patient while he or she recovers. A nurse leader will show a patient the way to recovery, and lead him or her there.

Qualities of a Good Nurse Leader/Manager

In a column for, Stephanie Staples, a nurse, advocate and speaker, shares her top five leadership qualities that she feels every nurse should have. They include:

•Communication – Getting a message across effectively.
•Growth – Dealing with the unknown and change.
•Courage – Knowing when to take risks.
•Appreciation – Gratitude for others and self-appreciation.
•Self-confidence – Knowing what needs to be done.

A list of ten top nursing manager qualities was published by the American Journal of Nursing in August of 2004. Its qualities include:

•Be a great communicator
•Be accessible and available to staff
•Be a staff advocate and reliable source
•Be reasonable, consistent, fair, and honest
•Have a good sense of humor
•Empower and motivate staff
•Be an effective decision maker, as well as crisis and conflict manager
•Be organized, yet flexible and creative
•Set standards and a clear professional example
•Respect for staff as professionals

Today, an advanced nursing degree is required for most nurse manager positions. There is little debate that better management skills and better leadership skills can make the nursing environment a happier, healthier environment for healthcare professionals and their patients alike.

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