The terms “leader” and “manager” are sometimes used interchangeably. Those of us who have worked for, or with, someone who is one and not the other will see the error in viewing those terms as synonymous. An individual can be a great leader but not a manager. Conversely, a typical nurse can be a manager but not possess many nursing leadership skills. 

What is the difference between nurse leadership versus management? 

A leader often doesn’t have delegated authority. The “power” that the leader has acquired has come informally from others in the group. Leaders focus on empowering others, as well as motivating, inspiring, and influencing others. A leader typically has good nursing communication and interpersonal skills.  True leaders must be sincere and energetic.  A leader may be a risk-taker, but not to the extent that others feel that they are reckless. 

A manager is provided with this status as a formal role which is given to him/her by someone else.  He/she has an assigned position within the formal organization. A manager is expected to carry out specific duties and has definite responsibilities. Control over processes, decision-making, and the work of others are included in the manager’s role.  Good nursing managers are skilled  at coordinating resources, both financial and personnel, following rules, and meeting the goals and objectives of the organization.  Control is a key element of the role.  Good managers also use reward and punishment effectively.

Although differences do exist, the roles can definitely overlap. The best case scenario is for an individual to have the best characteristics of both. All nurses are leaders and managers at some level. We all strive for a balance between doing the right thing and doing things right. The rapid and dramatic changes in health care make these skills more important than ever. Critical thinking skills, active listening skills, and good coping skills are essential at all levels in today’s nursing workforce.

Both leaders and managers need to envision the future and lead the way towards a productive and efficient unit with satisfied personnel. We can never stop seeking additional professional growth and opportunities to make a difference in our profession. There are many ways to accomplish this, including becoming politically aware and active, reading professional journals, and attending continuing education offerings relevant to our practice.  No formal title of manager is required to do these things.  A good nursing leader and manager will take advantage of these and other opportunities.

Question:  Nurse Managers, how are you being perceived?  A manager or a leader?