What It Takes to Become a Nurse Manager

What It Takes to Become a Nurse Manager

You’ve been a nurse for a while now, and you love your job. There’s nothing that thrills you more than knowing you’re making a difference and helping those in need.

But you’re starting to think that you want to increase your impact even more. In the nursing field, you can’t really climb the corporate ladder by schmoozing your boss or putting in extra hours. But there are ways you can increase your responsibilities. If you’re a natural leader and you enjoy helping others succeed, you may have what it takes to become a nurse manager.

But what does the position entail exactly? What skills and education will it take to land a job? We compiled government information, real-time job data and expert insight to gather all the information you’ll need to decide if it’s the right career path for you.

What do nurse managers do?

Nurse managers are a vital component of any healthcare setting. They are responsible for supervising a nursing unit in a hospital or clinic. That includes direction of nursing staff, oversight of patient care and some management or budget decisions. In other words, instead of spending their day screening patients and checking vitals, they are establishing work schedules, coordinating meetings and making personnel decisions.

There are a handful of other important duties a good nurse manager needs to understand and undertake, according to Tina M. Baxter, APRN, GNP-BC. These include mastering the budgeting process and adjusting for acuity and giving effective direction and feedback to nursing staff. She adds that above all, it’s also imperative to practice ethically and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

While nurse managers typically have several years of clinical experience, they typically discontinue providing direct care themselves once they take on the leadership role. If you are prepared to put aside the patient care aspect of nursing in order to focus on supporting and empowering the entire department, then becoming a nurse manager might be the perfect move for you.

What are some qualities of a nurse leader?

You’ve already mastered the skills needed to be a great nurse. But those will only get you halfway to a management role. Just because you have impeccable bedside manner does not mean that you will be able to lead others to do the same.

Managers must be able to lead, inspire and motivate others to provide the best care possible. We used real-time job analysis software to examine more than 90,000 nurse manager job postings from the past year.1 The data helped us identify what skills employers are seeking in candidates.

Here’s what we found:

  • Case management
  • Patient care
  • Supervisory skills
  • Treatment planning
  • Home health
  • Staff management
  • Budgeting
  • Clinical experience
  • Discharge planning
  • Scheduling

While patient care and clinical experience still make it on the list, hiring managers are generally more concerned with overall case management. Expertise in areas like finance and informatics will also help you see the overall strategy and make the best decision for everyone involved, says Karlene Kerfoot, Vice President of Nursing at API Healthcare.

Other skills that define a successful nurse manager are critical thinking and emotional intelligence, according to Baxter. “A good manager can look at a situation and analyze the moving parts to develop the best strategy while remaining flexible and agile,” she explains. As for emotional intelligence, nurse managers are not only responsible for taking patients’ needs into account, but also those of their nursing staff.

What is the job outlook and earning potential for nurse managers?

Health services management positions, which include nurse managers, are projected to increase by 17 percent through 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is part of a widespread growth in the healthcare industry resulting from growing patient demand and aging baby boomers.

Our job-posting analysis revealed the average advertised salary for nurse managers was $81,942.2 This increased income comes along with the added responsibilities that come with overseeing an entire nursing department.

What education and training do nurse managers need?

You may be surprised (and relieved) to know that most nurse management positions do not require a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN). What they do require is a registered nursing license and, in most cases, a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). A majority of employers also ask for at least three years of nursing experience, according to our analysis.1

If you’ve already earned your BSN and have been working in the field, you may already be qualified to become a nurse manager. You may also choose to become a Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) by passing the exam offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).

If you do not yet have your BSN, the good news is you won’t be required to start from scratch. You can leverage your Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) and job experience to complete an online RN to BSN program in as few as 12-18 months.3

Are you ready to step up?

You love the feeling you have when you leave work each day knowing you made a difference in your patients’ lives. If you’re ready to use a different skill set to help impact nursing at a higher-level, becoming a nurse manager may be the perfect change of pace for you.

The skills needed to succeed in this position can certainly be developed, but they are not innate in everyone. Kerfoot lists some questions to ask yourself if you’re considering a move into management:

  • Do you already have others seeking your opinion and guidance in your current role?
  • Are you comfortable with allowing the overall team to take credit for accomplishments?
  • Do you strive for excellence in yourself and others?

If your answers are yes, it may be your calling to become a nurse manager. Advancing your education will arm you with the technical competencies to compliment your natural qualities. Learn about the other advantages in our article, Is RN to BSN Worth it? 9 Reasons to Level Up.


1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 94,354 nurse manager job postings, March 01, 2016–February 28, 2017).
2Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 11,235 nurse manager job postings with advertised salary, March 01, 2016–February 28, 2017). Data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
3Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in April 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017.

About the author

Anna Heinrich

Anna is a Copywriter at Collegis Education who researches and writes student-focused content on behalf of Rasmussen University. She believes the power of the written word can help educate and assist students on their way to a rewarding education.

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