Nurse manager discussing a chart with another nurse in a medical facility.

Nurse Manager: 6 Key Skills


As the largest sector of the health care workforce, nurses play a critical role in ensuring high-quality patient care. Nurse managers guide the work of these key medical professionals while serving important administrative responsibilities.

What are some signs that a nurse is ready to pursue an advanced nursing position and take on a greater role in directing patient care? Nurses are good candidates for seeking nurse management roles if they already are a source of guidance and motivation to other nurses, understand the role of nursing in health care, and are eager to seek new opportunities.

Nurses who are ready for leadership roles should build on these accomplishments by developing the skills  needed to advance their careers. Earning an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a Leadership and Education or Nurse Practitioner focus can help nurses gain the knowledge and skills for the position.

What Does a Nurse Manager Do?

Nurse managers are leaders of units in hospitals or other medical settings. Their role does not include regular interaction with patients. Instead, they influence the quality of health care by leading the work of the nurses and helping to ensure that the medical facility operates smoothly.

Nurse Manager Job Responsibilities

The job responsibilities of a nurse manager are largely administrative and range from managing a budget to ensuring policy and legal compliance. Their duties include:

  • Developing unit and facility goals and objectives
  • Serving as a liaison between nurses, physicians, and other administrators
  • Improving the quality and efficiency of a facility’s care
  • Hiring, training, and mentoring nurses and evaluating their performance
  • Establishing and overseeing budgets
  • Leading patient and staff safety efforts
  • Addressing patient and family concerns
  • Scheduling nurses’ work shifts
  • Consulting with nurses on patient treatment plans
  • Assigning tasks to manage the flow of patients from intake to discharge
  • Caring for patients when the nursing unit is short-staffed

Nurse Manager Workplaces

Nurse managers work in a variety of health care settings including:

  • Outpatient clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Assisted living facilities

6 Key Skills of a Nurse Manager

Nurse managers need a combination of clinical skills and business acumen to manage the work of individuals with different aptitudes, education levels, and personalities while focusing on their team’s providing high-quality patient care. Nurse managers employ the following six key skills to succeed in navigating these responsibilities.

1. Clinical Expertise

Nursing teams rely on managers to share expertise and provide guidance when they have questions or need input regarding patient treatment. Whether their staff members need help with starting an intravenous line or with interpreting vital signs, nurse managers need the skill and expertise to guide them. Additionally, nurse managers should have a commitment to advancing their education and training to keep their skills sharp and stay abreast of the latest trends in care.

2. Communication Skills

Nurse managers regularly interact with nursing staff, physicians, administrators, patients, and families. They must know how to communicate with people from a variety of backgrounds. This includes clearly conveying patient instructions and explaining policies, even when under pressure. They must practice active listening and be approachable to nurses and other health care professionals, as well as to patients and families.

3. Flexibility

Nurse managers must have the flexibility to adapt to a variety of circumstances, from fluctuating patient numbers to updated policies and laws. They must quickly adjust to changes, such as revising requests for needed supplies, updating schedules, or modifying procedures to reflect new technology in patient records.

4. Analytical Skills

Health care policy is complex and constantly changing, so nurse managers need the skills to understand and implement updated laws and procedures. They also must have the capacity to analyze patient care options and explain   information to staff, patients, and families.

5. Management Skills

As unit leaders, nurse managers need to be able to build an effective team through recruitment, mentoring, and retention of staff. Effective management also requires skills in conflict resolution, decision-making, human resources practices, and mentoring. Additionally, these leaders must focus on results, ensuring that their teams are meeting patient care expectations.

6. Attention to Detail

Maintaining patient safety standards, policy requirements, billing, and scheduling requires a keen eye for detail to ensure that nursing units provide high-quality care and follow rules and regulations. Additionally, nurse managers must ensure that staff members adhere to best practices in patient care, as well as administering medicine on schedule and in the appropriate dosages.

Steps to Become a Nurse Manager

Nurse managers typically are registered nurses (RNs) who have at least a bachelor’s degree. The position often requires several years of experience working with patients, preferably in a hospital setting. A master’s degree, such as an MSN, is advantageous to those seeking this role.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Many employers, especially hospitals, require bachelor’s degrees for manager roles at their facilities. Courses in nursing degree programs typically focus on science, as well as communication, critical thinking, and leadership.

Get an RN License

In addition to nursing education, state RN licensing requires that individuals pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). This exam, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), measures an individual’s ability to provide a high level of nursing care. Degree requirements for RN licensing and roles differ by state.

Gain Nursing Experience

To become nurse managers, nursing professionals generally must have at least five years of clinical experience in a hospital or other health care facility, as well as administrative experience. Volunteering to assist with administrative tasks while gaining nursing experience can provide an advantage when seeking a nurse manager job.

Earn a Master’s Degree 

Although optional, holding a master’s degree can give candidates for nurse manager roles an advantage. Some employers may require this level of education. Master’s degree programs provide a strong foundation for administrative roles and typically offer opportunities for nurse leadership experience.

Pursue Executive Certification

Another optio is earning a nurse executive certification. Nurse managers may pursue the following certifications:

  • Nurse Executive Board Certified (NE-BC). Offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), this certification is evidence of a nurse’s skills in leading nursing and other health care staff, such as the ability to manage daily operations, staffing, professional development, and work performance.
  • Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP). This certification, from the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), shows knowledge of executive skills such as communication and relationship building, the health care environment, professionalism, and leadership.
  • Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML). This AONL credential, exclusively for nurse managers, exhibits a nurse leader’s understanding of financial and human resources management, performance improvement, strategic management, and technology.

Focus on Quality Care as a Nurse Manager

Nursing professionals with a commitment to leading the way in top-quality care should explore Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing: Leadership and Education and online Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner degree programs.

The programs can provide the advanced level of expertise and diverse skill set that nursing management demands. For working adults and those with busy lives, Norwich offers a high-quality education with the convenience and flexibility of an online format. Discover how Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing degree programs can help you pursue your professional goals.


Recommended Readings

Achieving Your Educational Goals: The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Most From a Master’s Degree
Nurse Leadership Qualities for Your Future Career
How to Become a Nurse Manager



Nursing Fact Sheet, American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Nursing Leadership: What Is It and Why Is It Important?, Relias
What Does a Nurse Manager Do?, Indeed
5 Signs You’re Ready to Be a Nurse Leader,
The Role of a Nurse Manager, Houston Chronicle
Nurse Manager Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications, Indeed
Nurse Managers' Competencies: A Scoping Review, Journal of Nursing Management
7 Must-Have Nursing Skills to Transition Into Nursing Management, American Mobile
The Qualities of a Nurse Manager, Houston Chronicle
How to Become a Nurse Manager, Indeed
Medical and Health Services Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Registered Nurses, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


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