Just Landed Your First Nursing Management Job - Now What? 8 Steps For Success

Starting a new job is challenging. But, when you transition out of staffing nursing and into nursing leadership, you face a few specific challenges. Learn 8 tips to help you get on the track to success in your new leadership role.


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    Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement. Has 25 years experience.
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Just Landed Your First Nursing Management Job - Now What? 8 Steps For Success

You hang up the phone. You did it! You just landed your first nurse leadership position - now what? You may have literally had this thought running through your mind. Sure, you know you need to tie things up in your current position. But, how do you make a smooth transition from being a staff nurse to a nurse leader? And, not just any leader, but one that you can be proud of being, right?

Job transitions are hard and exciting. When moving into nursing leadership, you need to understand the principles of successful leadership and then set yourself up for success from the beginning. Here are a few ways you can make sure you get started on the right foot:

STEP 1: Establish New Boundaries

If you are going to be the manager of a unit, department, or facility that you've never worked on before, it's a bit easier to set healthy boundaries. But, when you're moving up the ladder in your current place of employment, you might find that some growing pains are coming your way. You may need to change some of your past friendships to fit your new role.

No matter the situation, make sure you create boundaries. Before you give every nurse your personal cell phone number to show just how available you - stop and think about the worst case scenario of that decision. Oh, and I'm speaking from experience here! Yes, you have a work phone, and they know they need to use it first and only use the personal phone for emergencies.

However, you can trust me when I say that you might find yourself with both phones on at the same time - all the time. Be sure to think through these decisions before you give everyone access to you 24/7, rain or shine.

STEP 2: Create Two Lists of Leaders

Sit down with a journal and make a list of 5-10 nurse leaders you know that you admire. Under each name, jot down the qualities that made you put them on the "good leaders" list. Then, do the same with leaders that you didn't connect with quite as well.

Compare these two lists and meditate over both the positive and negative qualities. By writing this down, you can start making intentional decisions about the type of leader you want to be in your new role.

STEP 3: Meet Your New Staff One-on-One

You want to take the time to meet privately with each staff member. This might mean you have to show up extra early or even swing by for a few third shift meetings. Create a list of 10 question you want to ask each staff member so that you get similar information from each nurse. Here are a few sample questions that might work for you:

  1. What do you love about this job/unit/department?
  2. What improvements do you want to see in 6 or 12 months from now?
  3. What are your greatest assets?
  4. What do you need from a leader?
  5. What motivates you?
  6. If you were the manager of this department, what would be your top 3 concerns for the future?
  7. How can I serve you best as your manager?

STEP 4: Set Goals

Being the best leader you can be takes skill and planning. Write out 2-5 goals for yourself and then for the unit as a whole. Use the SMART goal system when writing your goals to help you achieve them.

You might even develop unit goals at a staff meeting so that everyone gets the opportunity to share their ideas. Once you've crafted your goals, post them in a highly visible area of your office. For department goals, place them in the breakroom or nurse's station.

STEP 5: Educate Yourself

A title alone doesn't make you a leader. It does make you a manager, but not a leader.

You're going to have to put some work into this first leadership job if you want to be here for many years to come. Connect with the American Organization of Nurse Executives or Organization of Nurse Leaders. Attend a local or national meeting to learn more about how to be a successful nurse manager.

Go to the library or bookstore and check out some books on leadership skills. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn

Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves

The One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

STEP 6: Host an All-Staff Meeting

It's essential to meet with all of your staff together. Meetings give you the opportunity to ensure that everyone hears the same messaging at the same time. It cuts down on miscommunication and allows you to set clear expectations for yourself and your new team.

STEP 7: Create Clear Expectations

Speaking of expectations --there is nothing is worse than not knowing what your leader expects from you. Be sure to communicate your expectations through clear verbal and written messaging. Send emails, post minutes after meetings, or create a newsletter to make sure that all shifts are getting the same information.

STEP 8: Celebrate With Your Staff

Being a nurse is a hard job, so make sure you celebrate the big and small wins with your staff. Have a monthly birthday potluck, celebrate holidays, new babies, graduations, and other life events. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, but having a small party will mean a lot to your staff.

And, one of my favorite ways to celebrate staff is with a small, hand-written note. Buy a box of blank notes and keep them handy in your office. It's amazing what a short note of thanks or encouragement can do to boost your staff's spirits after a rough day.

Use these tips to start moving your new leadership career in the right direction. If you're a new leader, did you use any of these tips when you got started? Or, if you're a seasoned nurse leader, what other tips would you give to new leaders who want to be successful from the start? Comment below, we love to hear your thoughts.

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa is a Quality Assurance Nurse, professor, writer, and business owner. She has been a nurse for over 20 years and enjoys combining her nursing knowledge and passion for the written word.

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traumaRUs, MSN, APRN

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Specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU. Has 31 years experience.

Great article.

When scheduling meetings, schedule multiple times to accomodate your off-shift personnel. Ditto when needing to discuss an issue with someone who works nights.