Nurse Leader vs. Nurse Manager (With Roles and Differences)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 4 August 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nurse leaders and managers are highly competent nursing professionals who provide high-quality care. When comparing a nurse leader vs. a nurse manager, the variations in seniority, job tasks and roles in the health care system become apparent. If you're thinking about becoming a nurse leader or nurse manager, it's important to understand the differences between the two jobs before you commit. In this article, we define a nurse leader vs. a nurse manager, explain the fundamental distinctions between the two and outline the qualities of effective nursing leaders and managers.

Related: What You Need to Know About Nursing Careers in Singapore

What is a nurse leader vs. a nurse manager?

If you're choosing between a career as a nurse leader vs. a nurse manager, understanding both roles can help you make an educated choice. Here's a description of each role and its responsibilities:

Nurse leader

Nurse leaders strive to promote the mission and vision of health care facilities. They can set policies for the facilities to ensure they comply with current requirements and foster organisational development. As a nurse leader, you may bear the responsibility for patient care quality, staff and patient satisfaction and organisational results. A nurse leader's primary tasks can include:

  • following trends on the recent developments in medical research

  • promoting and safeguarding patient health and safety

  • working to minimise readmission rates and lower the average duration of patient hospital stays

  • attempting to reduce health care costs via increased efficiency

  • giving team members the information and resources necessary to provide high-quality care

  • placing orders for and evaluating diagnostic tests

  • developing treatment strategies to enhance patient care and results

  • managing teams that offer direct patient care

  • overseeing patient advocacy and education programmes

  • reducing the turnover rate among registered nurses

  • overseeing community health nursing efforts and addressing public health issues such as obesity, hypertension and infectious disease prevention

Related: What Does a Nurse Manager Do? Responsibilities and Skills

Nurse manager

Nurse managers may serve as a key connection between an organisation's administrative goals and its patient care. They can accomplish this through close collaboration with other nurses, physicians and health care professionals. If you want to work as a nurse manager, you may spend a lot of time recruiting new nurses, managing personnel and monitoring their performance.

A nurse manager's primary tasks can include:

  • managing day-to-day activities

  • supervising and training team members

  • collaborating with various stakeholders to optimise care while staying within budget

  • handling escalated situations involving patients and health care professionals

  • designing and maintaining a budget

  • taking care of insurance and other payments

  • managing systems for electronic health records

  • hiring and assessing nursing personnel

  • working with other executives to obtain the best possible patient outcomes

Related: Why Be an Assistant Nurse Manager? (With Salary and Skills)

Differences between nurse leaders and managers

Nurse leaders and managers have a wide range of responsibilities, duties, qualifications and educational backgrounds distinct from one another. The following career components best demonstrate the contrasts between nurse leaders and managers:

Roles

Nurse leaders and managers take on various tasks throughout their careers, depending on their specialities and credentials. Nurse leaders execute leadership duties within a medical organisation. They guide department and facility improvements, invent creative approaches to improve patient care, direct how their facilities achieve goals and ensure they conform to core values.

A nurse manager may assume leadership responsibilities during their career. Nevertheless, their primary responsibility within a medical institution is to direct patient care processes, treatment plans and nursing practices. The nurse manager primarily manages nursing teams and important nursing procedures, such as reporting and documentation.

Related: How to Become a Registered Nurse: Useful Skills and Tips

Tasks

Nurse leaders and managers have different tasks and responsibilities. Nurse leaders establish practice standards and rules, initiate transformation in the health care context and influence nursing teams and personnel. They also endeavour to achieve an organisation's vision, purpose and long-term goals.

Nurse managers typically have direct contact with patients and are in charge of their teams and departments. Nurse managers may also be in charge of directing and conducting patient procedures, care and record keeping.

Education

Nursing leadership and management jobs may have different educational backgrounds. A nursing leadership position, such as a clinical nurse leader, may need different training from a nursing management role, such as a patient care director. In school, they often pursue different courses, specialisations and majors.

Related: What Does a Nurse Do? (Including Steps to Become One)

Important skills for nurse leaders and managers

While nursing leadership and management vary in several ways, they have some skill sets in common, including:

Leadership

Both nursing leadership and management need leadership skills. Nurses who take on supervisory positions to direct their teams and maintain organisational structure in their practices have leadership abilities that can help them advance in their careers. For example, nurse leaders and managers use their leadership skills to inspire team members, enhance nursing practices and establish successful treatment plans.

Teamwork

Nurse leaders and managers collaborate with a broad spectrum of health care professionals. As a result, both jobs rely on the capacity to cooperate with teammates, provide and accept feedback and exchange ideas with other staff and supervisors. Teamwork skills are important in these professions to navigate organisational culture and establish good connections with teammates.

Technical skills

Technical skills, such as computer and database proficiency, are necessary for nurse leadership or management positions. Nurses in leadership positions often utilise databases and reporting software to capture, classify and organise key medical information. Because certain administrative and executive nursing positions require nurses to work with this technology daily, technical skills may be very valuable in nursing leadership and management.

Communication skills

Nurses are excellent communicators. They interact with patients and health care professionals regularly and rely on strong communication skills to succeed. As a result, it's important for nurse leaders and managers to be proficient in written, verbal and nonverbal communication and have the capacity to connect with others.

Related: Nurse Manager Skills: Definition, Examples and How-to Guide

Time management

Nurse leaders and managers often operate in fast-paced workplaces, requiring time management skills to perform their responsibilities. They often set timelines for their tasks, including patient interactions and administration. As some nurse leaders and managers generate and supervise other nurses' schedules, time management skills can help them plan shifts in a 24-hour hospital.

Emotional intelligence

Nurses in leadership positions rely on emotional intelligence to communicate with their patients and colleagues. Several key qualities that nursing leaders and managers may display with their emotional intelligence include the capacity to care for patients, sympathise with others' emotions and thoughts and seek understanding in their professional relationships. Nurses can also help the patient's relatives and friends when a patient passes by using grief management techniques.

Critical thinking

Nurse leaders and managers may make more informed evaluations and choices regarding their patients with the support of critical thinking. They can utilise this skill to help patients who are currently struggling. Because no two cases are identical, critical thinking is necessary to provide practical solutions. Nurse leaders and managers also use their critical thinking ability when working with the rest of the medical team to care for patients.

Personal hygiene

Personal hygiene is a key skill to have as a nurse. Nursing students cover personal hygiene in great depth because maintaining proper personal hygiene is one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of infectious illnesses. Nurses require knowledge in hand washing, using disposable protective equipment and appropriately disposing of waste.

Risk mitigation

Nurse leaders and managers may employ risk prevention skills to reduce the likelihood of workplace accidents. When handling ill or wounded persons, it's important to limit any danger or accident to a minimum. For instance, they may supply a wheelchair to clients with mobility issues to reduce the risk of falls.

Related: 10 Common Nursing Skills: Definitions and Examples

Positive attitude

The nursing staff look to the nursing leaders and managers for guidance and assistance with cases and other administrative tasks. Consequently, they require optimism. It's important to possess a positive mindset and the capacity to administer the best treatment possible to succeed as a nurse leader or manager.

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