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While some healthcare organizations may use the terms nurse manager and nurse leader interchangeably, the responsibilities of the two positions can actually be quite different. Although nurses in these roles may not focus on the exact same tasks, much of their efforts accomplish similar goals such as the overall improvement of patient care. Nurses graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree may find either of these careers are intriguing employment options.

What Does a Nurse Manager Role Entail?

Nurse managers can have a wide range of responsibilities. Sometimes referred to as nurse executives or unit supervisors, nurse managers may frequently be tasked with developing departmental budgets, overseeing hiring processes, creating nursing schedules, and authorizing vacations or time off. They may also track inventory and supplies, supervise clinical care, and act as a liaison between executive management, physicians, patients and their families, and nursing staff.

The vast majority of a nurse manager’s day is spent completing tasks to ensure their team or department functions properly. However, depending on the facility, they may still have clinical duties in addition to their largely administrative role. Nurse managers work for many types of health organizations including hospitals, nursing homes, ambulatory care clinics and large physician offices.

What Does a Nurse Leader Role Entail?

For some employers, nurse leaders may be part of the executive management team and can be responsible for creating forward-thinking or modern approaches to transform the delivery of patient care. They may focus on establishing polices, setting improvement or quality standards, and developing continuing education tools to help nurses meet those goals.

Some facilities may also employ clinical nurse leaders (CNL). These individuals are often known as advanced generalists and may work more closely with nurses in a clinical setting to develop innovative patient care plans, coordinate care among multiple departments, and evaluate treatment plan outcomes.

The job responsibilities of nurse managers and nurse leaders tend to be different, yet they complement each other well. The variations between the two are summarized below:

Nurse Manager Nurse Leader
  • Develop departmental budgets.
  • Oversee hiring and retention.
  • Supervise clinical staff.
  • Monitor inventory and order supplies.
  • Serve as a liaison between management, physicians, patients, families and nursing staff.
  • Focus on the innovation and transformation of patient care.
  • Establish patient care policies.
  • Set quality goals for nursing staff.
  • Develop continuing education tools.
  • Create care plans, coordinate multidisciplinary care teams and monitor outcomes (CNL).

Are There Similarities Between Nurse Managers and Nurse Leaders?

While primary job responsibilities may differ, there are some similarities between the two roles. Both nurse managers and leaders may find that employers require nurse leaders and managers to have at least a BSN degree. Nurses pursuing either role may also benefit from continuing their education beyond a bachelor’s degree. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or completing a certification program for nurse management or clinical nurse leadership may provide career advantages, too.

Since there is some overlap in the duties and skills required of nurse managers and nurse leaders — managers may sometimes be called on to lead and leaders may sometimes need to step in and manage — completing coursework that strengthens both of these skill sets can be helpful. Coursework in online RN to BSN programs, such as the one offered by Mississippi College, may incorporate at least one leadership and management course so students can explore these foundational theories and learn to apply them in multiple healthcare settings.

Nurse managers and nurse leaders often earn well above a typical nurse’s salary. According to PayScale, the median annual income of a BSN-prepared nurse is $61,821. However, nurse managers earn a median annual salary of $83,235 and clinical nurse leaders earn a median annual salary of $74,572 (as of Sept 2017).

Choosing a Pathway

Although nurse managers and nurse leaders may have differing responsibilities, their roles strongly complement one another and both contribute to the quality of patient care. Nurses interested in either position may wish to pursue at least a BSN degree in order to be competitive in the job market. With the potential for substantial salary increases and the ability to use a broader set of skills, a career in nursing management or leadership is a perfect fit for many nurses.

Learn more about the Mississippi College online RN to BSN program.


Discover Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader

PayScale: Clinical Nurse Leader Salary

Discover Nursing: Nurse Manager

PayScale: Nursing Manager Salary

PayScale: Registered Nurse (RN) Salary

PayScale: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree Average Salary

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