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Could You Succeed as a Nursing Supervisor?

Col. Lenore Enzel, retired, left, Associate Director of Nurse and Patient Care Service at the El Paso, Texas, Department of Veterans Affairs, talks with nurses at the primary care clinic at the El Paso VA. (U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Candice Harrison)
U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Candice Harrison

If you've transitioned out of the service and have a background in nursing then working as a nursing supervisor might be your next step. And, ambitious nurses who can manage people and processes and are eager to exercise those skills in a leadership role should consider becoming nursing supervisors.

Nursing supervisors plan, coordinate and oversee the work of a healthcare team. They work in most healthcare settings, including hospital units, clinics and nursing homes, managing RNs, LPNs, nurses' aides and other members of the healthcare team. They usually report to their unit's nursing manager.

Nursing supervisor positions generally require two to three years of clinical experience. Many first-time supervisors get their positions via internal promotions, but nurses who have the necessary clinical experience can apply directly for such posts.

Nursing Supervisor Job Requirements

To be a nursing supervisor, you must first and foremost be willing and able to lead. Some nursing supervisors have natural leadership ability, but most develop their skills through a combination of experience and training. Nurses can learn supervisory skills through supervisor education or special team-leader training.

Besides leadership ability, nursing supervisors need highly developed skills in teaching, training, planning, making decisions, solving problems, organizing, delegating, communicating, listening and resolving conflicts.

While supervisors exercise these skills every day, supervision is a constant balancing act between maintaining a positive team spirit and setting goals and guiding the nursing staff toward achieving them.

To see if you'd like to pursue this nursing career path, here's a closer look at a nursing supervisor's main responsibilities:

  • Teaching and Training Staff: One of a nursing supervisor's most important tasks is teaching new hires and conducting ongoing staff training. When new nurses are hired, the supervisor is responsible for making sure they know what they are doing before they are assigned a task. Simply assuming that a new RN can do the job can lead to trouble.

    Nurse supervisors also need to keep their staff trained and informed about new developments and products. Whenever a new method or regulation is introduced, supervisors must make sure their employees have the skills necessary to perform those procedures or put new regulations into practice.

  • Managing People and Priorities: Effective nursing supervisors make decisions and solve problems based on the priorities they set that support their healthcare facility's goals. They also know how to delegate authority and manage the conflict that impairs employees' ability to do their work.
  • Enforcing Safety Procedures: Nursing supervisors are responsible for the safety of their unit's people and equipment. Supervisors who set a good example and apply the rules guarantee their facility's safety regulations will be followed exactly.
  • Setting the Tone for Your Team: Successful nursing supervisors have a positive attitude -- a trait not often emphasized in training but crucial for success nonetheless. When you are upbeat, your staff's productivity improves. If you're negative, it drops. The challenge is to remain positive even when people around you are not. Nursing supervisors can convey their attitude to the nurses who report to them by learning and practicing effective communication and problem-solving skills.
  • Disciplining Employees: This is perhaps the hardest part of being a nursing supervisor. Authoritarian managers often use threats and abusive language as discipline. Such a method is ineffective, because it fosters fear and resentment that slows down work and makes people uncooperative. Successful supervisors discipline using the positive approach. Positive discipline means that the person being disciplined realizes that the discipline is to help him do a better job, not to punish or embarrass him.

People are all motivated by essentially the same things -- accomplishments, learning new things, recognition and new challenges. Nursing supervisors who create an environment that encourages employees to achieve and be self-motivated will succeed in their own roles.

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