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Charge Nurses: Developing Frontline Leaders

Analysis  |  By HealthLeaders Media Staff  
   March 07, 2019

For an organization to be successful, develop and treat frontline charge nurse leaders as a strategic part of intentional succession planning.

This is an excerpt from The Charge Nurse Leader Program Builder: A Competency-Based Approach for Developing Frontline Leaders.

By Diana Swihart, PhD, DMin, MSN, APN CS, RN-BC, FAAN and Kelly J. Gantt, RN, MBA/HCM, BSN, VHA-CM

As charge nurse leaders gain increasing role delineation, responsibilities, accountabilities, and influence at all levels of performance, they must learn and develop leadership skills as quickly as possible. The current unprecedented amount of healthcare reform drives the need for approaches to developing frontline leaders that encompass behavior and attitudes, team-building, ability to work with multiple diverse stakeholders, improvement of services and practice, conflict management, and communication skills. Tim Porter-O’Grady defined leadership as a multifaceted process of identifying goals and targets, motivating others to act, and providing support and motivation to achieve mutually negotiated goals.

Nurse managers collaborated with charge nurse leaders, setting the goals and targets for the unit-level leadership and team activities, sharing appropriate levels of authority and accountability for interacting with staff and team members, and communicating reports and outcomes provided at varied intervals by frontline leaders. Successful operations of the shift and unit staff, team morale and motivation, management of difficult or challenging situations, and maintenance of open lines of communication depend on the skills of frontline leaders. Let’s explore a few tips for developing charge nurse leaders.

Leadership Tips for Charge Nurse Leaders

  • Remember, there is always more to learn about managing and leading. You have demonstrated clinical expertise but may not have the self-confidence to lead others. Take the opportunity to learn from them and from your manager, nurse educator, and interprofessional partners. Explore the evidence present or needing to be developed to progress charge nurse leaders in clinical, management, operations, and leadership knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs).
  • Communicate clearly, accurately, and consistently. Keep your manager and team members informed of priorities, patient care changes, new admissions and pending discharges, and other essential unit operations. Effective communication is critical to your credibility and success in gaining and maintain the support of your manager and team members, in managing professional relationships with interprofessional partners, and in facilitating safe patient-centered care.
  • Be a good role model. Demonstrate the same level of professionalism and commitment you expect of your manager and team.
  • Encourage feedback. Be willing to listen to the concerns, ideas, and constructive feedback of others; invite them to help you find solutions and to help problem solve challenges that they identify.
  • Celebrate successes. Recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of team members. Praise freely and frequently; celebrate every “moment of excellence.”
  • Charge nurse leaders work in unit-level microsystems. Take time to see the “big picture” and how your work fits into the organization’s mission, vision, and strategic plan. Share your discoveries with your team members. Show them how their assignments and team-care activities fit into the overall objective to provide safe, quality, and competent patient-centered care. Help them see the impact of their work and how it affects the bottom line and overall success of the organization.
  • Create a learning environment. Explore multiple team approaches to care. Review the latest research and best practices in nursing leadership. Find a mentor. Allow yourself to make and learn from mistakes as you consider new and innovative ideas in frontline leadership.
  • Provide professional support and guidance to those you manage and lead. Coach and mentor your staff and team members. Explore ways to motivate and encourage them. Commit yourself to their success as well as to your own.
  • Be patient. You are an exceptional clinician. You are growing as a frontline leader and developing new skills and abilities. Seek guidance from your manager, team members, and interprofessional partners as you embark on this process.

Leadership for charge nurse leaders is primarily about making accurate decisions, delegating, appropriately, managing conflict, acting ethically and with integrity, nurturing others with emotional intelligence and connectedness, maintaining a safe work environment, and communicating across disciplines and within teams. Coaching, preceptoring, and mentoring charge nurse leaders throughout their orientation and development will facilitate their engagement through learning activities and growing competencies. To build strong frontline clinical leaders, provide effective and committed role models, create mechanisms for peer review and aligned supervision, create career pathways and conduct succession planning, protect time and resources for learning and skill development, and ensure that nurse managers and unit team members are supportive and engaged.

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