AONE leader describes characteristics of good nurse manager

Excellent nurse managers possess strong leadership and communication skills and create a vibrant culture of teamwork and trust among their staff.

We asked Bob Dent, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, CENP, FACHE, FAAN, president of the American Organization of Nurse Executives, about essential traits of good nurse managers and how they can develop a culture of teamwork.

Dent has been the recipient of several management awards, including Nursing Management’s 2016 Richard Hader Visionary Leader Award, the Texas Organization of Nurse Executives Excellence in Leadership Award and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Distinguished Alumni Award.

Bob Dent, RN

Dent is the senior vice president, chief operating officer and CNO at Midland Health in Midland, Texas. He maintains academic appointments with Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

What are the essential traits good nurse managers should possess when developing teamwork skills with their staff?

Developing trusting relationships is critical to effectively leading a team. To establish trust, leaders need to be accessible, honest, confident and respectful.

As an effective nurse manager, learn how to talk and listen to your staff. Without trust, you cannot successfully influence others, lead your team through conflict or manage a crisis.

Like any relationship, it takes time, communication and effort to build trust. Once trust is broken, it causes stress for you and your staff and it takes a lot of time and effort to rebuild. Effective communication is essential to conflict and relationship management — two key skills outlined in the AONE Nurse Manager Competencies.

How do you suggest new nurse managers develop these essential traits within themselves?

To build these trusting relationships, it is important nurse managers are highly visible and accessible to their nursing teams.

I recommend as a good nurse manager you make yourself known to your team. Do not just send emails and memos, but rather talk to your team in person and be fully engaged in the conversation. This helps to ensure they understand what you are saying and shows you are a real person. By taking the time to round with your team, you show them you are there for them and care about their work.

When you cannot be physically visible to your team, it is important you remain accessible. One of the things my hospital created was a department Facebook page visible to only members of the team. It is a great tool to stay in touch while I am traveling. It also is a great way to celebrate milestones like birthdays and team successes.

What do you see as the positives and challenges of developing and improving a teamwork culture?

Changing a culture can be difficult. It requires effective communication, as well as intention, commitment and collaboration from everyone in the organization. Every member of the team must understand the organization’s mission, vision, core values and strategic priorities, but also their own role in achieving them.

As a nurse manager, you set the tone for the unit and create a sense of community. You need to be consistent and support your team in staying focused, despite challenges. Help team members stay engaged and empowered in their work. A positive and healthy workplace environment improves communication and teamwork, which then leads to improved outcomes such as quality, safety, patient satisfaction and nurse satisfaction.

How do nurse managers foster wins and overcome or downplay difficulties?

Creating a shared vision and focusing on meeting that vision helps overcome many challenges. A nurse manager leads by example.

As a good nurse manager, it is important to remain calm and focused, as well as communicative with your team. Foster positive, creative behavior and create a sense of curiosity. If something is not working, challenge the current process and encourage team members to find innovative solutions.

Set people up to ask questions and let them find the answers. In a Culture of Excellence, employees develop the flexibility and resilience to deal with change, challenge and uncertainty.

How does the AONE support nurse managers in developing a teamwork culture, such as resources, programs, etc.?

AONE has educational programming and leadership development resources to help nurse managers find the leader within themselves. The Emerging Nurse Leader Institute teaches transformational leadership behaviors, strategies for maximizing accountability and decision-making and effective communication.

Through the Nurse Manager Institute or more intensive Nurse Manager Fellowship, nurse managers learn relationship management, leadership skills and their role in the future of nursing. AONE’s Dynamic Leadership in Shared Governance course teaches nurse leaders, at all levels, how to build a Culture of Excellence, where nurses have accountability and responsibility for nursing care.

AONE’s annual meeting includes educational programming and networking opportunities for nurse managers. In addition to in-person programming, AONE offers webinars, guiding principles, tool kits and a weekly newsletter to keep nurse leaders updated on happenings and best practices.

A great way to stay connected is through AONE’s Leader2Leader networking site. Here, nurse managers can ask questions and receive answers from nurse leaders everywhere.

What would you say to new nurse managers who are trying to develop their staff’s teamwork skills?

Be confident in yourself and patient with your team. It takes time to create a culture change. Take the time to focus on culture. Be repetitive and really understand your team.

A few years ago, I created “Breakfast with Bob” where I meet with a small group of managers each month for breakfast. Each month, it is a different set of managers. My aim is to meet with all managers in the organization a few times per year informally to hear what is going well and challenges they are having.

I connect the dots with mission, vision, core values, strategic priorities and our culture as we visit. I let them know I do not expect them to be an expert right away. Research shows it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. We talk about developing and applying skills and learning from mistakes. My managers feel liberated.

My other advice is do not expect perfection. Do not be afraid to ask for help. No one can do everything alone. Ask yourself, what can someone do to help me? Finally, identify and use a mentor.

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