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When Good Managers Leave: How to Create a Smooth Transition for Staff

Every hospital has at least one: The nurse manager who performs like a superstar. The staff nurses love her so much they would follow her into a burning building, and she performs the business functions of her position with thoroughness and excellence.

This is the type of nurse manager that makes a CNO’s life easier, and you want to keep them at almost any cost. But, alas, good nurse managers do move on in their careers – sometimes to another department, sometimes to a different employer altogether.

When a good nurse manager leaves, the integrity of the department can be compromised. Essential management tasks might languish during the vacancy period, causing budget overages, inappropriate staffing levels or other problems. In a leadership vacuum, the unit’s staff nurses may begin jockeying for a power play that leads to ill will and chaos in the day-to-day operation of the department.

It doesn’t have to be like that, though. By employing a few simple strategies, you can ensure a smooth leadership transition and cultivate your next superstar nurse manager from within.


Constantly cross-train staff nurses in management tasks

 Often hospitals promote nurses with excellent clinical skills into leadership positions, but skillfully interpreting the meaning of a patient’s complex lab results does not always translate to an ability to understand unit budgeting or staffing matrices. This disconnect can cause new nurse managers to fail because they lack the business skills required to be successful in a managerial role.

To help your future nurse managers succeed from the moment they enter a supervisory position, you should constantly identify staff nurses with the potential to become supervisors and then provide them with time to work alongside nurse managers to learn basic healthcare business skills, such as budgeting and staffing. Then, when you ultimately promote those staff nurses into an interim or full-time management position they will have a foundation in how to perform the business aspects of the job.


Promote from the unit

Having trained a department nurse in the basic functions of management, you can immediately install that person as the interim supervisor when a unit leader announces her resignation. This strategy helps you avoid the power struggles that can occur when a leadership position remains vacant.

The other staff nurses will recognize their peer has been groomed over the preceding weeks or months to take on a managerial role and may be less likely to attempt their own play for authority after their fellow nurse takes the reins. As well, a nurse promoted from the floor to a supervisory position already understands the unit culture and the personalities involved, which might make the transition smoother for everyone.


Include staff nurses in the interview process

Before you begin interviewing for the vacant nurse manager position, convene a committee of nurses from the unit to help develop a list of traits they want to see in the new manager. These nurses may be able to provide valuable insight into why they felt so loyal to the manager who is leaving, and you can take these characteristics into account. For instance, perhaps the exiting manager excelled at diplomatic communication. Or maybe she employed an innovative scheduling system that felt very fair to the staff – and they wish to see that system continued under new leadership.

You also should allow a select group of nurses from the department to develop interview questions, sit in on interviews and provide feedback afterwards. By involving staff nurses in choosing their new manager, you foster the type of empowerment that leads to loyalty and excellence in patient care.


Many people lament when a good nurse manager leaves: the CNO, physicians, staff nurses. But you can put transition measures into place long before a manager moves on to new opportunities – and perhaps even wind up cultivating your next superstar manager.


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