How to be a successful nurse manager

We asked hundreds of Australian nurses and midwives on The Nurse Break’s FB group (here) what their advice and tips were for a nurse moving into a Nurse Unit Manager role for the first time! Check out the awesome responses below along with some additional advice for new nursing managers and leaders!

Be a great communicator. Have commitment to world leading clinical practice. Be a big picture thinker. Have a passion for mentoring. Be willing to be mentored. Be a life long learner. Demonstrate respect. Be a visionary and transformational leader.

Week 1 – 2 of a new NUM position. Some suggestions on what to focus on:

  • Get an orientation to the flow and work of the unit. Actually, be on the floor and help out
  • Meet informally with staff
  • Establish and connect with a mentor
  • Set up regular meetings with your director or the manager above you
  • Meet other NUMS
  • Meet with the existing nursing leadership team
  • Meet the specific ‘Heads of Departments’ or other important key contacts
  • Become familiar with key policies and procedures
  • Ensure you begin to understand and familiarize yourself with managing resources and budgets

Advice and Tips on how to be a successful nurse manager

Sit back, watch and listen initially

  • Watch and make notes, then make a priority list.
  • Ears open, mouth closed.
  • Don’t change things that don’t need changing. Don’t change everything at once. Ask what is and isn’t working on your unit.

Manager or Friend

  • Don’t play favorites among the staff, even if your best friend forever works there. Treat all staff equal and be a manager not a best friend
  • You can’t please everyone all the time.
  • Try and touch in with all your staff on a regular basis, you can be friendly but remember you aren’t everyone’s friend, you are their boss.
  • Deal with problem staff. One bad apple can upset the whole team. Document discussions thoroughly.
  • Keep your staff members confidence. If given confidential private information, respect its confidentiality.
  • Don’t ignore poor performance just because it’s hard to manage. Sometimes people don’t know what is expected of them, sometimes they need training or resources to do it. Sometimes they have all of that and choose not to do what is expected. Always get advice from HR to make sure you do what is fair and reasonable.
  • Don’t listen to gossip….

Lead and Adapt by example

  • Be proactive and energetic!
  • Check on staff and assist when their load is too much.
  • Interact with families and patients.
  • Be adaptable and open minded with the changes to your unit with challenges such as Covid19
  • Listen and lead by example
  • Develop selfcare strategies. All great managers look after themselves too.

Powerful Networks & Reflect

  • Surround yourself with a management team that have the strengths to your weaknesses.
  • Get feedback from your team to reflect and evaluate
  • Know your leadership style and reflect on it
  • Find a mentor. Find a trusted senior like a senior NUM or ADON to ventilate to, not your own staff.
  • Have an anonymous tip jar for people to put in notes with feedback or ideas to improve unit


  • Be approachable and have an open-door policy
  • Don’t forget your humanity. And don’t forget that you work with people who are your biggest assets. Nurture them because when you do, your job will be so much easier.
  • Nurture your staff. Know their coffee orders. Randomly rock up with a tray of coffees for staff (you already know who is working) on a weekend after a busy week.
  • Surprise your staff with pizza randomly….or something like this! Everyone loves pizza.
  • Don’t just hide in the office. Try and attend handover on occasion so you know what’s going on day to day.
  • Be nurturing to staff, support efforts for higher education & encourage use of emotional intelligence daily.
  • You will be a great NUM if you stand beside your staff in every way. They will in turn stand by you. Lead them, nurture them and understand their needs.
  • Remember what you wished your NUM could have been like, reflect on that.
  • Don’t forget how it felt to be the ‘shit kicker’, praise your staff when they do well .

Other things:

  • Maintain a basic level of clinical competence in order to support their teams. NUMs should also ensure all staff are working within their scope of practice, with direct or indirect supervision as required
  • Have a sound understanding of National Safety Standards and all relevant policies, procedures and guidelines.
  • Conduct regular audits in collaboration with ANUMs and engage the nursing, allied and medical teams to be part of change
  • Create an environment that is a learning culture to enable nursing staff to participate in career progression and professional development
  • Continually try identifying opportunities for improvement.
  • Ensure that the unit and your staff promote a safe and supportive culture
  • Be present to staff, families, patients and others
  • Ensure you have an understanding of different change management theories and methods

Go here to read from our growing list of articles about nursing leadership and management