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Comparing Leadership Roles and Management Functions in Nursing


Nurse leaders and managers are responsible for departments or teams within medical organizations. Nurses who achieve these positions have demonstrated their skills not only as nurses but also in working with peers and administrators. While leaders and managers share many skills, they usually operate within different spheres of the medical ecosystem.

Defining Leadership Roles and Management Functions in Nursing

Nurse managers supervise fellow nurses, ensure that work environments remain safe and healthy, and contribute toward a sense of teamwork that enables nurses to focus on patient care while growing professionally. Nurse leaders deal with the development and management of programs instituted by a nursing department or hospital. Both roles are important to the long-term contribution of nurses to their organizations.

The Similarities Between Leadership Roles and Management Functions

The scope of both the manager and leader jobs hinges on interacting with other healthcare staff. Nurse management deals primarily with the details of their staff’s day-to-day jobs; nurse leadership focuses on developing programs and overseeing their implementation within the department. Both roles depend on direct staff interaction and managing their duties to ensure they are in line with the organization’s mission.


The goal of both nurse leadership and nurse management is to enable organizations to provide effective and efficient healthcare. To this end, both nurse management and nurse leadership promote patients’ well-being as their primary concern. Both must also follow changes in healthcare legislation and policy, implementing new laws to protect patients and institutions.


Nurse leaders and nurse managers also share some specific skills. Nurses interested in becoming managers or leaders must demonstrate competencies such as:


  • Decision-making: The ability to act without hesitation when it comes to making the best decisions for a patient’s health is an important skill for nurse managers and leaders.
  • Analytical and critical thinking skills: Both managers and leaders must assess the success or failure of programs and policies and adjust accordingly. Critical thinking skills enable nurse leaders and managers to make strategic decisions on day-to-day operations.
  • Communication: Management and leadership positions both rely on successfully interacting with colleagues and superiors, from presenting new initiatives to managing staff complaints.
  • Strong interpersonal skills: Positive interpersonal interaction facilitates respect and understanding. Being able to interact with coworkers on a professional basis depends heavily on the manager’s or leader’s interpersonal skills.


To aid nurses interested in entering management, the Maryville University online MSN in Leadership and the online Master of Science in Nursing programs offer courses in legal and ethical issues in healthcare leadership, healthcare human resources and organizational behavior, and the latest in healthcare policies and patient safety.

Differences Between These Roles

While there are similarities between leadership roles and management functions in nursing, the differences make each stand out as distinct. Nurse management primarily works on supervising staff. Because of the focus on individuals, nurse managers must be skilled task managers, ensuring that they place nurses in roles they are best suited for to benefit patients. Nurse leaders are more likely to deal with the planning and execution of programs, managing the implementation of policies across organizations.


Nurse leadership roles can be associated with executive-level career paths, leading to positions such as chief nursing officer (CNO). According to November 2019 PayScale data, the median annual salary of a CNO is around $128,000. CNOs are responsible for enforcing strict policies to ensure the safety of patients while at the same time promoting positive healthcare outcomes.


According to November 2019 PayScale data, nurse managers’ annual median salary is around $85,000. Nurse managers have the responsibility of providing oversight for nursing staff and dealing with the administrative functions associated with their teams. Nurse management roles can be a stepping stone to more advanced level nurse leadership positions.

Leadership and Management in Nursing

Nursing is one of the fastest-growing professions in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and demand for nurse leaders and nurse managers is high. Maryville University offers nursing students a learning path that can guide them toward high-level leadership and management positions: the MSN degree online. Explore the options and prepare to take on leadership roles in your nursing career.


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