10 Must-Have Qualities of a Good Charge Nurse

If you’re looking into the nursing profession, then you know that being a charge nurse is one of the most important jobs a nurse can have. As a charge nurse, you’re not only taking on the role of caretaker but also managing the rest of the nurses on the floor.

If you’re a charge nurse or are looking to become one, here is what you should know about them.

What makes a good charge nurse? A good charge nurse must be fair and open-minded. They need to be knowledgeable about evidence-based nursing practice. A charge nurse needs to be a leader and be able to make tough decisions under pressure. 

What are the qualities of a charge nurse?

  1. Knowledgeable of Protocols and Up-to-date Nursing Practice
  2. High Critical Thinking Skills
  3. Assertiveness & Confidence
  4. High-Level Communication Skills
  5. Joking Around and Having Fun
  6. Being Able to See the Big Picture
  7. Be in Pursuit of Excellence & Hard Worker
  8. Own Your Mistakes
  9. Admit When Someone Else Has a Better Idea
  10. Humility
  11. High Social IQ

*disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. Please see my disclaimer.

What is a Charge Nurse?

A charge nurse or a lead nurse is a nurse who is for lack of a better term in charge of a unit or a medical floor.

What Are The Roles Of A Charge Nurse? 

Depending on the facility or unit, your role as a charge nurse will vary. I’ve worked as a charge nurse in multiple facilities, departments, and areas of nursing, and each time my role as a charge nurse was a little different to very different from the previous one.

To know for sure what you need to do as a charge nurse, you need to consult with your nursing manager or a trusted veteran nurse on the unit. 

With that said speaking generally, the main role of a charge nurse is to oversee the other nurses and sometimes mentor them. However, they are in charge of a lot of different things.

They are there to manage admissions and discharges, investigate patient complaints, and act as a liaison between management, doctors, nurses, patients, families, and other parties.

As a charge nurse, you will also need to sign off on staffing paperwork, create schedules, monitor staffing needs, and just maintain an overall safe and enjoyable work environment. 

What Qualities Make A Good Charge Nurse? 

Every charge nurse is quite different, and unfortunately, many of the charge nurses you’re going to work with are not going to be very good. The excellent charge nurses do tend to share similar qualities that make them good at their job.

Below I’m going to list some of the qualities of a good charge nurse:

1. Knowledgeable About Protocols and Up-to-date Nursing Practice

There is a reason why many facilities do not let just anyone (especially new nurses) take the role of being a charge nurse. One of those reasons is because as a charge nurse, you need to be knowledgeable of facility and unit guidelines along with up to date medical and nursing best practices. 

As a lead nurse, you’re going to be expected to mentor and advise new grad nurses and nurses who are new hires to the facility. It becomes very difficult to do that if you’re not versed yourself in up to date guidelines. 

2. High Critical Thinking Skills

There’s a difference between knowing things (knowledge) and being able to apply those things and think outside the box when several different factors and circumstances are thrown at you.

Here’s a helpful video about critical thinking and why it matters.

3. Assertiveness & Confidence

As a charge nurse, you’re in charge of a lot of different people and personalities. It’s not that easy to lead that many personalities. Being confident and assertive is a must because your decisions are going to be challenged.

You’re going to deal with staff members who are going to want to do things that are in their own self-interest and not in the best interest of the unit or the patients. You need to be able to stand up and deal with difficult staff members like that. 

4. High-Level Communication Skills

Charge nurses are not the only ones that need good communication skills. If you look at any list of must-have skills for nurse leaders or even the list we made of the most important qualities of a good nurse, good communication skills are always included. There’s a reason for that.

A typical medical unit will have members from varies multi-disciplines treating the same patient. A break down in communication can easily result in very bad patient outcomes. 

As a charge nurse, a deficiency in communication skills can be magnified over multiple patients, staff members, and in general how your unit runs. You must be able to communicate your thoughts into words that are easily understood the way you intended. 

Excellent communication skills are hard to acquire, but it’s doable. If you’re needing help on improving your communication skills as a charge nurse check out some of these books from Amazon.

Here’s also a video on improving communication skills.

Related article: Qualities of a Director of Nursing

One other thing about good communication skills as a charge is that it’s one of the most important skills needed when it comes to conflict resolution in the workplace.

5. Joking Around and Having Fun

Let me clarify this. There’s a time and place for joking around and having fun. On top of that, there’s a balance that needs to be achieved. With that said, although it is important to be assertive, you also need to know when to relax and joke around.

This lighter side to you will make you easier to work with for your fellow nurses, and in a lot of ways will make it easier for the patients and the patient’s family members.  

6. Being Able to See the Big Picture

Your job as the charge nurse is to delegate tasks and make sure your unit is running as smooth as possible. In some units and facilities, the charge nurse delegates the patient and room assignments.

While the floor nurses are focused on their patients as the charge nurse, you need to see the big picture. The bigger picture will involve how the unit as a whole is running. 

7. Being in Pursuit of Excellence & Hard Worker

Nobody likes a “slacker.” Laziness or an attitude of indifference as a charge nurse will make everybody’s life difficult on the unit. As the lead nurse, you need to be in pursuit of excellence every day at work.

That’s not implying you need to be perfect. Nobody is perfect, and you’re going to make mistakes. But even then you still need to be in pursuit of it. 

8. Own Your Mistakes

This is self-explanatory nobody is going to expect you to be perfect. But when you do make a mistake, you need to make sure you own up to it and don’t try to cover it up. Trying to cover up mistakes in healthcare leads to bad patient outcomes. On a similar note…

9. Admit When Someone Else Has a Better Idea

When I’m in my charge nurse role, I love it when someone else comes up with a better idea than me. When your team is empowered to speak up and voice their ideas, it takes the pressure off you as the charge.

It makes the team happier because they feel involved in the decision making. Lastly, it means a better run unit because instead of one person trying to come up with all the ideas you have 5, 10, 15+ staff members doing the same thing. 

10. Humility

Just like humor, you also need humility. I don’t have much to add on this except I’m sure you know from experience humble people are just easier to be around than those that are arrogant.

11. High Social IQ

You might have heard this referenced as Interpersonal awareness, emotional intelligence, or social IQ. They all mean roughly the same thing. 

It’s about your ability to deal with people in general. Your interactions with people. Your ability to know when and how to interact with certain people or around certain circumstances. 

How To Become A Charge Nurse? 

We have another article in the works that will go into more details on how to become a charge nurse. I’ll link to that article when it’s ready. Until then here’s a quick rundown.

Most charge nurses you see will be a licensed registered nurse (RN), especially in a hospital setting. You’ll see licensed practical nurses (LPN) or licensed vocational nurses (LVN) as charge nurses also. 

Most hospitals or nursing homes require a certain amount of experience before a nurse can apply to a charge nurse position. Many charge nurses have their bachelor’s of science in nursing or an associate’s degree in nursing. 

Man times, nurses will become a charge nurse (or be eligible to become a charge nurse) after they’ve been working at the same place for a while.

Conclusion

Being a charge nurse is a big responsibility, and it’s not easy being a nurse leader. Hopefully our tips on what makes a good charge nurse will help you excel on the job. 

When you first become a charge nurse, it might be a bit overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of things, you will be surprised at how rewarding this job can be.

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