Nurse Leader vs Nurse Manager

by | Jan 25, 2022 | Charge Nurse | 0 comments

Leadership is foundational to success in every profession. The nursing profession is no different, requiring an effective nurse leader to meet the challenges of this burgeoning field.

If you’re considering a career as a nurse leader vs nurse manager, it is important to understand the difference between the two roles before making any commitments.  Here are some considerations for how they differ:

Nurse Leader vs Nurse Manager

Nurse Leader vs Nurse Manager: Similarities and Differences

Both hold leadership capabilities that contribute to patient care excellence ​and nursing excellence across all healthcare settings including hospitals, clinics, extended care facilities, and many more.

It’s important to note that both nurse leaders and managers possess strong organizational skills as well as exceptional communication abilities. These will help them accomplish their goals in providing excellent patient care.   Nurses with these individuals know that they will be treated with respect and integrity.

What is a Nurse Manager?

Nurse management is an excellent nursing career opportunity that offers many rewards along with distinct opportunities for growth and advancement, including the chance to expand your leadership skills. In addition, nurse managers are typically given a direct reporting line of registered nurses who they can mentor as future leaders.

Typically, nurse managers have more formal education than their counterparts in other positions such as charge nurses or staff nurses. This includes earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) which allows them the extra qualifications to take on this important role.

Nurse manager responsibilities often include:

Nurse managers are not typically involved in direct patient care, but they may occasionally provide hands-on care under specific circumstances. For the most part, their time is spent on overseeing and directing the nursing staff, ensuring that patients receive the best possible care. The key responsibilities of a nurse manager role include:

  • Overseeing day-to-day operations
  • Supervising and providing training to team members
  • Working with various stakeholders to optimize care and meet budget requirements
  • Handling escalating situations between patients and healthcare providers
  • Designing and managing a budget
  • Overseeing insurance and other reimbursements
  • Overseeing electronic health record systems 
  • Hiring and evaluating nursing staff
  • Collaborating with other managers to achieve optimal patient outcomes

The Nurse manager’s job is to oversee the clinical practice of nurses and coordinate patient care. Their goal is to make sure patients receive quality, safe and cost-effective care. Nurse managers work with directors and vice presidents in other departments to provide a high level of coordinated care for patients.

What is a Nurse Leader?

A nurse leader is a nursing professional who has assumed a position of authority in order to positively affect the practice of nursing. Nurse leaders are often responsible for promoting and modeling exemplary nursing care and creating an environment in which nurses can excel.

Leadership qualities that set nurse leaders apart include:

  • Keeping up to date on the most recent healthcare studies.
  • Creating a safe and conducive environment for patients by preventing mistakes.
  • Working to reduce the length of patient hospital stays and readmission rates.
  • The aim of this paper is to lower healthcare expenditures by increasing efficiency.
  • Providing team members with the skills and tools they require to provide high-quality care.
  • Ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests.
  • Creating treatment plans to enhance care and patient outcomes.
  • Overseeing teams that provide direct patient care.
  • Overseeing patient advocacy and education initiatives.
  • Reducing the turnover rate of registered nurses.
  • Overseeing public health healthcare programs that tackle issues.

Essential Qualities for Nurses in Leadership Roles

Nursing leadership and management roles are highly specialized and require individuals who have mastered the art of nursing. Leaders in this field are nurses who have a passion for the profession and are driven to improve patient care. They must also possess the following qualities:


The ability to motivate and inspire others is one of the most important traits of a successful leader. Nursing leaders must be able to create a vision that their team can buy into and support. They must also be able to communicate effectively, foster teamwork, and resolve conflict.

Problem Solving

Nurses who hold leadership positions are often required to think on their feet and come up with creative solutions to problems. Leaders must have excellent analytical skills, be detail-oriented, and be able to see the big picture.

Decision Making

Making decisions is an essential part of a leader’s job. Nursing leaders must be able to balance the needs of patients, staff, and the organization while making decisions that are in the best interests of all parties involved.

Time Management

Nurses in leadership roles are often juggling many responsibilities at once. They must be able to effectively manage their time in order to meet deadlines and accomplish their goals.

Critical Thinking

In order to provide high-quality care, nurses must be able to think critically. Leaders must be able to assess a situation, identify the problem, and come up with a solution.


While not all nurses who enter into leadership roles have clinical experience, they should have strong emotional intelligence and be able to empathize with those they are leading.

Positive Attitude

Nurses who aspire to leadership positions must have a positive attitude and be able to set an example for their team. These individuals should also be open-minded, encouraging, and willing to learn from others.

A passion for nursing is essential in order for nurses to attain leadership status. It is important that nurses hold themselves up as role models of the profession while maintaining a professional manner at all times. This includes showing respect for patients, peers, and colleagues alike.

Nursing Manager Job

The Nurse manager’s job is mainly strategic while managing all day-to-day decisions of hospital units/departments under them such as Clinical Engineering. In addition, they will assist in the planning, development, and implementation of nursing department goals. In addition, they provide overall management to the performance appraisal process as well as hiring, rewarding, training, and counseling employees.

5 Nursing Leadership Types to Know

In nursing leadership and management positions, there are five different types of authority that can be identified and classified:

  • Servant leaders motivate and inspire their team by focusing on building and refining the skills of each individual.
  • Transformational leaders clearly communicate and promote the overall vision and mission of the organization to team members.
  • Democratic leaders encourage collaboration and open communication. They seek to improve the system rather than the skills of particular individuals.
  • Authoritarian leaders make decisions without the input of others and punish team members for making mistakes.
  • Laissez-faire leaders provide team members with little supervision and wait until the last minute to address issues.

Educational Paths for Nurse Leader vs Nurse Manager

When it comes to the education and licensure requirements for nurse leaders and managers, there is a wide range of possibilities. Nurses can climb the ladder to leadership positions by earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) as well as graduate degrees such as Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctorate of Nurse Practice (DNP), or Ph.D. In addition, nurses can earn certifications from organizations such as the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, American College of Nurse Executives, Institute for Safe Medication Practices, or The Joint Commission.

For those interested in becoming a nurse manager, the first step should be to build a foundation of knowledge within nursing by completing an associate degree program at a community college or technical school before pursuing professional education opportunities.

An alternative path to becoming a nurse leader is entering through the nursing management route. To do this, nurses must first have some clinical experience, preferably in an administrative position. They are then eligible for managerial roles such as case manager or patient/family educator before moving into more senior positions with additional education and experience.

Benefits of Developing Leadership Skills in Your Nursing Career

The leadership skills that nurses develop in the course of their careers can open a number of doors. In addition to management and leadership positions, these skills can also lead to highly sought-after consulting roles, teaching opportunities at universities or online programs, research careers with companies such as Healthways or IMS Health, or even jobs at health insurance companies.

Opportunities for Advancement

Nurses who excel in their clinical expertise may be considered for higher-level administrative roles such as nurse managers. In many cases, nurses who take on leadership roles are given more responsibility and autonomy when it comes to patient care decisions which improve the quality of patient care overall.

Nurse Leader vs Nurse Manager: Salary Expectations

A Registered Nurse earns on average $80,010 yearly. Meanwhile, according to the BLS, a Nurse Manager’s mean annual salary is around $118,800. The difference in salaries between management and leadership roles can be attributed to the fact that nurse managers have additional responsibilities such as financial planning, human resources, and marketing.

According to the American Society of Nursing Leadership’s 2020 Salary and Compensation Study for Nurse Leaders, nurses who have been designated as leaders earn more than $150,000 a year.

Final Thoughts

Both leadership and management roles are essential to the nursing profession and provide nurses with opportunities for development and advancement. While there are similarities between these roles, they require different skill sets and experience in order to be successful.

Those who want to pursue leadership positions should consider investing in a graduate degree such as an MSN or DNP while those interested in becoming nurse managers should look into starting out in an administrative role within their current organization or taking on a clinical leadership position at another facility prior to transitioning into a managerial role.

The simple answer is your choice of educational and job experience. While there are many paths to take in becoming a nurse leader or manager, you should consider all of your options before making a decision. This article provides an overview of the differences between both roles which will help you determine if one is right for you.

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Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

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