Top tips from a nurse director for staying on top of your game

Published: 02 Aug 2016 By Claire Johnston

Nurses bring hope to people and being a director of nursing is a privilege.

You have to be steered by what matters to nurses and nursing and stay true to this. It's more difficult to stay on top than it is to get there, but if you focus on the right things with conviction, you will make a deal of difference.

Failure and criticism are part of the package: knocks happen, so just try to make sure they don't stick to you. Don't ruminate on any mistakes - let them go and remember: stepping stones to success come from discouragement you've faced.

Choose great deputy nurses

Pick the best nursing team to work alongside. I have two amazingly talented deputy directors of nursing who lead a great nursing team. 

It's essential to have deputies who can share the load - preferably with different skills and approaches to your own.

We have a dedicated nursing research team of 12, and from the point of qualification you can get involved in our trust with research and development. 

Share with other leaders

Networking is critical to be effective as a leader.

The nursing leader community is amazingly friendly and open - and we know we need one another. These jobs can be lonely and sharing with those who understand the game you are in because they are too, matters.

I've just had a year as a Florence Nightingale Scholar and it was an amazing experience to develop further my leadership skills.

But the best learning came from the other nurse leaders through co-coaching and being honest with one another about our challenges.  

Team work is crucial

You have to know how to work with influence; as a director of nursing you may not have the operational clout or the budgetary control but working effectively through the power of influence is your art. 

Remember you’re part of an executive team and you can't do it all on your own: I work very closely with the medical director, the chief operating officer and, of course, the director of finance.

Together we can get it right and take best decisions by pooling our talent and respecting one another's contribution.

Pick your battles carefully. Expending a lot of emotional energy on the things that you can't change will leave you frustrated and may unseat you.  You have to know your boundaries.

Finally, remember why you came into nursing and share your personal story - it helps me to hold on to my passion for my profession.

I'm proud of what I do every day, but the real stars are our nurses and care support staff in the trust.

Top 6 tips to stay on top

1.    Be prepared to work hard: these jobs are not for the faint hearted, but always keep your well-being in mind.

2.    Find a coach to work with. Explore with a friendly neighbouring director of nursing from another trust, it might lead to great joint nursing programmes. 

3.    Focus on the right things and you will make a difference; remember leaders don't often win popularity stakes.

4.    'Well begun is half done'. So said Aristotle and that's a maxim for me to seize the day and get going.

5.    Remember why you became a nurse and what it meant to you then and now. 

6.    Accept you won't always get it right. No leader can in whatever sphere, including our politicians, but tomorrow is another wonderful day to try to succeed.  

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