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Nurse To Nurse Leader, Easy Peasy?

Nurse To Nurse Leader, Easy Peasy?

So, you think you are cut out for management? Making the change from a bedside nurse to a nurse leader can be hard. In a perfect world, a new manager would be warmly welcomed and strongly embraced. Then everyone would hold hands and sing Kumbaya. But, sometimes, things just don’t go that way. 

If you’re thinking about applying for that nurse manager position or taking that promotion, here’s what you need to keep in mind. And bonus, we’re also giving tried-and-true advice in case you decide to go through with it.

nurse leader

Managing More-Experienced Nurses is Tricky.

One of the most challenging things about being a new leader is working with colleagues with more experience. Be ready. Those coworkers who have been at the unit, office, or organization longer can be tricky to manage. 

Perhaps Karen was loyal to a previous manager. Or maybe Susan doesn’t do well with change. New managers can quickly find themselves in hot water, i.e., uncomfortable situations and difficult conversations, if they aren’t careful. Diplomacy is key. Leaders have to be intentional and thoughtful with their words and actions. In positions of authority, all eyes are on you. And sometimes, they are just watching for failure. 

Words of Advice:  When working with more-experienced nurses, show and tell them that you value their expertise. One-on-one meetings are invaluable. Ask for their support in your new role and find out how you can support them.

Leadership Requires Different Skills.

You may be a rockstar on your unit. You can make all the calls, please all the patients, and do all the things. And then you can fail as a new nurse manager. In other words, as the nurse, you are caring for the patient. Rather when you are the nurse leader, now you are caring for other clinicians on your staff. As a result, performance is measured differently.

Taking on a role as a nurse leader may mean sharpening (or finding) a new skill set. The move from nurse to manager means changing your mindset. It’s tempting to jump in and help out with patient care when staffing is a problem. Don’t get me wrong. It is great to serve your team and lead by example. And it is expected. Read more about the expectations of nurse leaders here. But a management position means getting creative, taking the initiative, and leading staff, not doing their jobs for them.

Words of Advice: Think about traits and behaviors you’ve seen firsthand in good leaders. Work to emulate those. 

Relationships Will Change.

If you are going to go for it as a manager, be ready for things to change. 

Sometimes it’s for the worse. Namely, relationships might get strained. You may even find yourself blocked on Facebook because you’re the supervisor now. It’s lonely at the top.

But even if friendships are maintained, and things seem the same, relational dynamics have to change. Nurse leaders must avoid showing any signs of favoritism. They have to be careful about treating coworkers differently. Staff is always watching. 

It can be tricky to navigate situations when coworkers bring up things you said or did in the past (or on social media). And they can hurt a leader’s reputation. Sometimes leaders have to learn how to be friendly without being a friend.

The goal as a nurse leader is to gain and maintain trust. If others think they can’t trust you, you’re doomed to fail. Being a nurse leader is about inspiring and leading others. 

Words of Advice: Talk with close friends about how your relationship may have to change. Be fair and consistent with everyone.

Even Leaders Need Mentors. 

Every nurse leader has difficult days. And at times, they need to ask questions. Other times they need to vent their frustrations. But THE last thing a leader wants to do is spread negativity or lose the trust that they have gained. See the effects of a hostile workplace here.

And so leaders need mentors. It is critical to have someone to vent to, lean on, and learn from. And it might be the most important thing to think about for a transition from nurse to nurse leader. Think of a mentor like a preceptor, guiding new nurses to gain clinical skills. A mentor serves as a resource and role model for new leaders. A recent article in Nursing Management found that nurse leaders are ill-equipped in knowledge and may lack support and guidance to manage inherent challenges in their roles. You can read more on mentorship here.

Words of Advice: Find a mentor for regular check-ins, goal setting, and progress review. Make a list of potential mentors, invite them to lunch, and ask for mentorship. Or find resources online. You can read about finding a mentor here.


Hopefully, these ideas have you thinking about nurse leadership in a new way. Being a nurse manager means nurturing new relationships with different skills. So, are you up for the challenge?

Do you have a nurse-to-nurse manager story or advice of your own? Share below! If you enjoyed your break today, subscribe to our blog for more like this, and don’t forget to like and follow on social media.

Sarah Falcone BSN, RN

Sarah Falcone BSN, RN


Sarah S. Falcone BSN, RN is a dedicated nurse based in Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX. Her first nursing gig, was night-shift floor nurse in women's services (PP, L&D, nursery). Through a series of fortunate events, she found home health and a passion for helping seniors age in place. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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