Difference Between Nurse Leadership vs. Management

By Lanette Anderson on Wed, Nov 13, 2013

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? 



4 COMMENTS

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Anonymous 2 years ago


In my experience working at three hospitals, a community health center, a nrsing home, and three schools of nursing, I have found that the leadership from those in the official chain-of-command varied from not-very-good to very good, but in no case was the formal leadership the only leadership available or required. There were always staff nurses or clinical instructors (in other words, grunts,or people at the sharp end of the spear) who were informally recognized as leaders by their peers. Some of this is based on clinical excellence, some of it is based on personality and temperament that elicit respect, some of it is based on the particular situation. Formal chains of command are necessary, but are, in most circumstances, not sufficient.



Anonymous 3 years ago


It may be true that all nurses are leaders and managers at some level, as the author states, but that can work within an organization only at a very minimal level. Perhaps the author is simply pointing out that all nurses should work to increase their leadership or management abilities. If so, that is fine and commendable. If, on the other hand, she is suggesting that organizations should have multiple separate managers and leaders, then she is plainly wrong. For effective control of an organization there has to be clear lines of command. It is vital for organizational directors to choose managers who are also superb leaders. Nurses, in the typical work environment are members of a collective labor union and they often view themselves as a separate and distinct body from management. They tend to naturally choose a leader from among their midst and instinctively dismiss management’s choice. A huge problem in such an environment is for the manager (an outsider to the nurses) to be able to garner his leadership skills sufficiently to earn the complete respect of the nurses so thoroughly that they informally bestow onto him the “power” that he already has in name only. This is the best scenario for a productive and efficient nursing environment.