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Insights on becoming a first-time manager

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

Many years ago (I won’t say exactly how many), I made the transition from working as a staff nurse, responsible for my own actions and performance, to becoming the nurse manager of the unit I had been working on for six months. My first promotion! With this advancement came unit-management responsibilities and the added accountability for supervising the nursing assistants and staff nurses who were previously my peers.

When my director of nursing offered me the nurse manager position, I remember having mixed feelings. On one hand, I thought, “I’m in the big time now. I’ve really made it!” All my hard work honing my clinical skills, expertly administering meds and treatments, and delivering great patient care — it all helped me make my mark as a competent nurse. On the other hand, I wondered if I had it in me to take on the pressure of overseeing all aspects of managing the unit and assuming accountability for other people’s performance.

Becoming a first-time manager is one of the most challenging leadership transitions in an organization. The number of new skills to be learned can feel daunting. Coordinating and assigning work, ensuring care and/or service delivery processes are running smoothly, overseeing quality initiatives, ensuring adequate equipment and supplies, and routinely communicating with staff — just to name a few. By the way, I recently saw a job description for a skilled nursing facility charge nurse that listed all of the “major duties and responsibilities.” It was 11 pages! (I’m not kidding!)

My mistakes

After accepting the nurse manager position, I quickly realized I was woefully underprepared. Individual excellence does not a good manager make. Who knew? I sure didn’t! And, apparently, neither did my director of nursing!

Here are just a few of the mistakes I made upon assuming my new role:

  • Believing that I had to know all the answers. After all, I was put in charge of my unit for a reason. I was supposed to have the answers.

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