Shelley Cohen is a founder and educator at Health Resources Unlimited, LLC, in Hohenwald, Tenn.
Effective leaders know that taking ownership of their job descriptions means success for their careers.
The author has disclosed that she has no financial relationships related to this article.
When taking on any new role, a period of adjustment exists not only for you, but also for younger/novice leaders, new peer groups, and direct reports. During this transitional period, expectations are high from many perspectives and some may prove to be unrealistic. Providing clarity regarding your role goes a long way in not only how you're perceived by others, but also for building your confidence and credibility. The good news is that a well-defined job description provides the necessary elements for this clarity. Your job description should clearly delineate what the organization and others can expect from you. What the job description won't define is the style of leadership you elect to embrace. You, and you alone, will be defined not by your title, but by how you chose to embrace, engage, and implement the details of your job description.
Before you sit back and examine your leadership style, print out a copy of your current job description and make notes about the following:
- When was the last time this job description was updated? You want to review it annually to ensure it's a current and true reflection of your role and responsibilities.
- Do the elements represent what you perceive your job entails? There may be items no longer associated with your position that need to be removed. In addition, depending on how detailed the content is, you may need to add additional specifics.
- Are there responsibilities assigned to you that aren't defined/noted? Roles change and evolve over time; however, these details aren't always updated in the job description.
- Are the qualifications listed for the position in congruence with your degree(s), certification(s), and so on?
If changes need to be made, consult with your manager and a representative from human resources to determine the process for making the changes. If your job description isn't a true representation of your role, how can staff know what to expect from you? Although many new and seasoned managers tend to procrastinate when it comes to updating their job descriptions, this one action holds so much power for you when it comes to accountabilities. As you learn to embrace powerful tools to improve your effectiveness, the job description will be a front-runner.
Make a list
Although it may be hard to fathom, some new managers find themselves in a position for which there's no job description. Those situations are best dealt with by networking with peers and seeking resources through nurse specialty listservs online where you can request others to share their job descriptions with you; professional nursing organizations that offer free access to online documents for members; Internet searches for templates of job descriptions; and the American Nurses Association (ANA) resources (practice standards).
If you feel that your job description isn't even close to the expectations that have been implied or verbally relayed to you, develop a list of categories that you want to consider for inclusion, such as responsibilities relevant to fiscal issues, personnel and patient care concerns, quality improvement and committee involvement, and qualifiers for the job (degrees/certifications). An excellent guideline resource is the Nurse Manager Inventory Tool, developed by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and the American Organization of Nurse Executives. Make sure to review not only the practice standards for managers from the ANA, but your specialty nursing organization, too.
Show, don't tell
After your job description is developed/updated, it becomes a power tool when you own it. Ownership is garnered by:
- following organizational processes to finalize/support the updated job description
- sharing and discussing its content with staff
- making sure a copy is readily available to staff
- referring to the content as needed to reinforce goals you set for yourself and the department
- demonstrating and practicing the very same expectations defined by your job description.
Taking ownership of your role as a healthcare leader is no different than a person who owns a business. People look to you to set the tone, culture, and daily practices demonstrated through procedures and staff behavior. Staff members, organizations, and customers/patients will always have expectations, and meeting these expectations is largely dependent on the style of leadership practiced and whether the leader owns his or her job description.
Know your style
Over the years, a variety of nurse leadership terms and theories have emerged, accompanied by a wide variety of definitions. Transactional and transformational leadership are two examples of current terminology. (See supplemental content on the Nursing Management iPad app.) Understanding the difference between these two leadership approaches is essential as a foundation of knowledge for managers. Applying these details to specific situations allows the manager to adopt the best approach to reap the most effective results (situational leadership).
More important than placing a title to your approach as a manager is that you have the ability to blend three key practices within your role: leadership, management, and coaching. Successful leaders empower others to engage in practices that support the organization's mission and problem solving. Leadership means taking ownership by demonstrating solid mentoring and overt support of goals and missions—having a long-term vision and understanding the individual impact of one department on the organization. Leaders must make decisions and relay them to staff members, inform and instruct staff members about what's required of them, and focus on the short-term vision about what's best for their individual department. Finally, coaching means providing direction for the team, helping individuals understand their specific roles, and improving staff member performance through education and mentoring.
Be better than good
Now is the time to think past wanting to be a “good manager” and refocus your efforts on being an effective leader. Your ability and willingness to be flexible in your approach to situations, staff members, organizational decisions, and so on is key to your success.
Taking ownership of your role requires a solid understanding of where you fit in the organizational chart. That is, how does your role differ from that of the person to whom you report? If you're responsible for overseeing more than one department, you may find yourself reporting to more than one manager. When you have more than one person setting and/or defining expectations for you, it's helpful for each of them to understand your job description. The ANA provides a comparison framework for the nurse executive and the nurse manager, which is helpful when trying to gain a better understanding and appreciation for both positions.
How you communicate ownership of your title is the most important element in establishing credibility with the organization, staff members, and patients. This sense of ownership translates to commitment at the highest level. Professionalism in your practice as a nurse manager takes on a new dimension with ownership through ongoing self-development and a genuine approach to wanting the best for the organization, staff members, and patients.
American Nurses Association. Nursing Administration Scope and Standards of Practice. Silver Springs, MD: American Nurses Association; 2009.
Cohen S. New manager intensive day 2: a focus on leadership. Presentation at Nursing Management. Congress, September 9-13, 2013, Chicago, Ill.
Giltinane CL. Leadership styles and theories. Nurs Stand. 2013; 27:(41):35–39.