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When you’re thinking about your career goals in nursing, they might include a more advanced position, such as nursing management or nursing leadership. Knowing more about leadership vs management in nursing can help you decide which path is right for you. Consider the following as you weigh your healthcare career options.

Differences Between a Leader and Manager in Nursing

What are the differences between a leader and a manager in nursing? Leadership and management roles in nursing are similar in some ways, but there are notable differences between them. Nursing managers are responsible for managing day-to-day operations in nursing departments and supervising department staff. Leaders typically supervise nursing teams and ensure the overall success of the unit or hospital as a whole.

Similarities Between Nursing Leaders and Managers

Nursing leaders and managers share some similarities, mainly in terms of the kinds of skills required for these jobs. Whether you work as a nursing leader or manager, you’ll need to develop solid leadership and management skills. To succeed in either of these positions, you’ll need to be able to communicate effectively with others. You’ll also need to work on your critical thinking and problem-solving skills so you can make informed decisions regarding patient care as a nurse leader or day-to-day operations as a nursing manager. Both roles can also involve delegating tasks to others on a regular basis.

Keep in mind that there are different leadership styles that nursing leaders and managers might use. These include servant leaders who focus on supporting team members individually and transformational leaders who focus on uniting nursing teams. Democratic leaders focus on making improvements to the system overall, while authoritarian leaders have a take-charge approach that usually doesn’t include feedback from team members. Laissez-faire leaders typically have a more laid-back, reactive leadership style.


Why Both Are Important

Nursing leaders and nursing managers both play essential roles in ensuring high-quality patient healthcare. While managers focus on making sure patients are receiving the care they need or finding ways to improve day-to-day procedures, leaders concentrate on the bigger picture. Both roles are needed for facilities to continue providing dependable healthcare services.

Role of Nurse Manager

A nurse manager primarily focuses on keeping daily operations in the department running as efficiently as possible. These managers usually don’t handle patient care in a direct way. Instead, they supervise nurses and other staff members and provide training as needed. Nurse managers might also be responsible for creating a budget for their department, hiring staff members, ensuring electronic records are up-to-date, and interacting with stakeholders. When you work as a nurse manager, you might also need to work with other managers in the facility and step in when difficult situations occur between healthcare professionals and their patients. Your responsibilities might also include overseeing healthcare insurance issues.

Role of Nurse Leader

A nurse leader focuses on making sure individual patients receive quality care. As a nursing leader, your responsibilities may include overseeing a nursing team and working on improving patient care, as needed. Nursing leaders are often expected to make patient care more efficient to help reduce hospitals stays, lower the risk of readmissions, and reduce healthcare costs. Other responsibilities you might have in this position include lowering turnover rates among nurses at your facility, providing patients with education to help them manage medical conditions better, and helping them understand their treatment plans to improve outcomes. Nursing leaders might also provide healthcare services directly in addition to educating patients. You’ll also need to continue learning to remain up to date on healthcare research that’s relevant to your area of nursing.

How to Become a Nurse Leader

Becoming a nurse leader involves becoming a registered nurse first. In order to do this, you’ll need to earn your undergraduate nursing degree and pass the required NCLEX exam. Passing this exam means you’ll be licensed to work as a registered nurse.

Your next step may include earning a graduate degree from an accredited program. While working on your graduate degree, you can expect to gain clinical experience that help you turn classroom learning into the practical skills you’ll need on the job.

From there, you’ll need to become certified if you plan to work as a nurse leader. You can do this through a certification program, such as the Clinical Nurse Leader Certification Program offered by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. After completing these steps, you’ll be able to begin working as a nursing leader.

If you’re leaning toward becoming a nurse leader, we can help. American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Post University offers a Master of Science in Nursing with a Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership Specialization. This online MSN management and leadership specialization provides you the opportunity to build the skills required for a nurse leadership position. Please contact us today for more information about this program.


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Please note jobs, career outcomes, and/or salaries highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs, career outcomes, and/or salaries expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s program and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions representative.