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Braving the new manager world

Cohen, Shelley MSN, RN, CEN

Nursing Management (Springhouse): January 2014 - Volume 45 - Issue 1 - p 8–9
doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000440637.48766.43
Department: Manager matters


As a new manager, the pressures of workload and time constraints seem to interfere with many items on your “I wish I had more time for this” list. Here are the top 10 tips for survival as a new manager. Although it isn't an easy task to isolate the 10 top essentials for success in leadership, this list is a good place to start.

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Retention is your best recruitment strategy.

After you identify key staff members who take ownership of organizational values and demonstrate healthy professionalism in their work practices, ensure that you work to retain them. Set aside a specific time on an ongoing basis to determine what aspects of their jobs energize them and what they're looking for in the future that will nurture their personal/career goals.

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Don't tolerate underperformance, low performance, and unacceptable behaviors.

Recognizing that enduring these types of work practices will only reinforce an environment where it's difficult to motivate the team, supporting organizational expectations early on is essential. Use the power tools of job descriptions—the mission statement, vision/values, and the employee handbook—to guide you in early identification and resolution of these concerns.

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Your primary role is to define reality.

As the manager, you're the one person that staff members, patients, and caregivers should be able to go to for the most current and accurate answers to their questions. Although there will be occasions when you'll need to seek answers elsewhere and possibly redirect others, overall you need to be the trusted source. When it's common practice that an unreliable source (a ringleader or staff member dedicated to disrupting your efforts) is the person defining reality, problems ensue. Not only does this perpetuate an environment of distrust, but it also supports the rumor mill and reinforces miscommunication.

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Don't make all of the staff members pay for the actions of one or two individuals.

Events will occur requiring you to step in and redefine reality through policy, procedure, the handbook, and so on. When one or two staff members don't adhere to any of these, rather than sending out a message to all of the staff members, target your communication directly to those who need the reminder or reinforcement. This minimizes distracting other staff members with unnecessary contact and promotes more positive communication for those who adhere to policies and procedures.

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Never measure your success by being “caught up” with your paperwork.

Budget reports, entering salary data, time schedules, and benchmarking data collection and analysis are just a few categories of the seemingly endless stream of paperwork for which managers are responsible. Many of these have deadline dates and some have very short timelines. When these deadlines are met, it's a great feeling of accomplishment for managers. However, this necessary but time-consuming paperwork can easily distract you from the realities of success as a leader. Getting your budget in on time with a high rate of turnover or a work environment known for disruptive behaviors doesn't evoke a sense of success.

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Your job description doesn't say “does everything.”

Your ability to delegate to staff members and others goes a long way in not only growing as a leader but also in sending a message to staff that you want to engage them and you trust them. Although you may feel that you can do it faster, better, and more accurate, this can lead to a perception of disrespect for staff members' knowledge, experience, and skill. Learning to appropriately delegate and guide staff members through these processes provides ample opportunity for mentoring and coaching as a leader. Examples of items to consider for delegation include the time schedule, review of policies and procedures, and sitting in on some organizational committees. Staff members grow with these experiences, managers balance their workloads better, and the department gains a sense of cooperative effort.

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How staff work today and tomorrow shouldn't be based on how they worked yesterday.

Leaders need to mentor and coach staff members on the need to embrace new knowledge, techniques, and healthcare practices that are proven to impact patient outcomes and/or job satisfaction in healthcare. Providing opportunities for staff members to observe new practices elsewhere can serve as great momentum to engage them in change. They understand we can't treat a myocardial infarction patient today the way we did 5 or 10 years ago. Applying clinically relevant scenarios allows staff members to envision the bottom line on impacting patient care.

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It's absolutely acceptable to close your door and have uninterrupted time.

Effective and successful leadership can't be realized without intermittent opportunity for the leader to have uninterrupted time for setting goals, developing strategies, meeting with individual staff members, decision making, research, and networking. Having an “open door policy” at all times sends a message that your work can be interrupted at any time. If staff members know you're working on payroll, they may not be as apt to interrupt you. Inform staff members that you're going to start posting a schedule on your door or in the department with strategic thinking/planning hours. Communicate with them directly by providing examples of what you'll be using this time for. In addition, be sure to provide scenarios that would be acceptable to interrupt you for, such as a risk management concern that the charge nurse is unable to handle.

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Never underestimate the power of employee morale.

Time and again when employees are asked what keeps them at their current workplace, they elude to the effective leadership style of their manager. And, when those exiting the organization are asked why they're leaving, many times they'll refer to the poor leadership style of their manager. You need high-performing employees to meet the ever-changing climate of healthcare. Low morale leads to lost productivity, increased absenteeism, increased conflicts, and an overall unhealthy work environment. Promoting an environment of effective communication, empowerment, trust, and respect provides the best foundation conducive to positive morale in the workplace.

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Embrace the triple e.

Leaders should be able to engage, enable, and energize themselves and their staff members.

Engage: Understand your job description/role and how it contributes to organizational success and overall improved patient outcomes. This will require you to take a hard look at the responsibilities and accountabilities the organization expects of you. When you decide to skip over this component, your lack of clarity will transcend to staff members who will also have an unclear picture of their roles, accountabilities, and responsibilities.

Enable: Provide staff members with the tools and resources they need to execute their individual roles. This includes supplies, reference materials, ongoing education, and so on. Positioning yourself as a leader who practices management by walking around allows for coaching and mentoring “in the moment.” Schedule some of your time to be among staff members while they're providing patient care because this will demonstrate and validate who's truly engaged in their job.

Energize: As a leader, you need to maintain high levels of energy and to do so you must take good care of yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Your ability to role model for staff members that it's possible to balance life and work from a healthy perspective goes a long way in demonstrating how to set priorities.

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Poised for success

These 10 tips are foundation principles of effective leadership that will guide any new nurse manager toward success. Each day, select one of these tips as your focal point rather than trying to do it all at one time. Eventually, you'll find that these practices become part of your daily routine, providing staff members with a consistent picture of your style of leadership. When staff members know that they can depend on you, it brings a new level of confidence to their job every single day.

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