ABSTRACT: More and more nurses are finding themselves in management roles, either by design or default, with little management training, and often working for people with little or no management training as well! But what is the role of a manager and what specific skills do you need to have?

On being a manager

The task of management is all about organising yourself or groups of people to work together productively towards known, shared clear goals or objectives. If your objectives are not obvious, you will tend to muddle along. You do what you think is required and hope that things will work out for the best. This is not the ideal recipe for achieving consistent and successful results.

Everyone needs to manage at all levels. Successful managing means coping with things and getting them done well enough to ensure a successful outcome.

It means attainment by design rather than by chance. It makes the difference between achieving something to a satisfactory standard and not achieving anything, or only partly doing so. Managing involves a host of disparate activities, such as making plans, allocating resources, solving problems, taking decisions, directing operations and maintaining control, each one of which can seem to be an impossible mountain to climb. But when simplified, these become a series of foothills which are fairly easy to tackle once you know how (Table 1).


If you throw yourself into your role, without determining specifically what you want to do, you will almost certainly be dissipating your efforts. Being successful does not usually happen by accident. Planning is the activity which gets you from where you are now to where you want to be. It consists of analysing your current situation, deciding on your objectives and plotting your action.

Unfortunately, people rarely find enough time to think about or plan for the future. They will tell you that what happens from day to day takes up so much of their time that there is no time left for planning. But thinking about your ultimate aim is vital if you are to achieve what you want.

Making time

Time is a finite commodity. Most of us admit that we do not have enough time, yet some people seem to manage to get more done than others. It is vital to understand why this is the case.

To save time, you have to spend a little time. If you do not take time to work out what you are trying to achieve on a daily basis, you will only waste more time. If you can schedule time for your work in a way that allows you to get things done, you will be more able to meet your deadlines. You will have set aside the time to do what you need to do, and you will find that you have made time to do all sorts of things you never had time for. However, you can’t do it all on your own.


Delegating means handing over some of your authority and control to someone else and making sure that all goes well. Often the mere contemplation of these things is enough to cause you to quail at the prospect and fail to delegate.

Many people agree that delegating is an essential managing activity, but few find it easy to put into practice. They know it is not just a matter of handing over a job and magically it is achieved, and they have misgivings about trusting other people to do their work as they would do it.

But once you know the procedure, you will find it a powerful and productive way of getting tasks completed and releasing you to do more. It not only offers you a chance to offload some of your burden, it also provides an opportunity to develop and cement good relationships with those who are doing the work. However, you need to be able to delegate the right jobs to the right people.

Selecting the right people

If you like the look of someone, you are highly likely to communicate and listen more attentively. But if your first impression is not very favourable, you may be less interested in what they have to say or to trust them. You need to beware of your first impressions. Managing people is not easy, but it can be made easier if you make sure that you have selected the right people in the first place. When choosing new people, you are taking a most important business decision, because how you attract and retain them has direct implications on your own and others’ work.

In a difficult economic climate, such decisions tend to be a relative rarity, so it is important that you get it right first time. The penalties for making the wrong it Successful managing means coping with things and getting them done well enough to ensure a successful outcome decision can be very expensive, not just in financial terms but also in terms of the time and energy which you and others will have spent in the process. However, even the right people need motivating to do a good job.


If you do not notice when things fall below standard, people will think you do not care. And if you do not sense when morale is low, things can deteriorate rapidly. Both are essential concerns for maintaining high levels of motivation. The concept of motivation is often seen as a mystery – a commodity something akin to magic dust, which you sprinkle over people and suddenly everyone is full of energy and a willingness to work productively.

In fact, the concept of motivation is remarkably simple. It has to do with how individuals are treated and how good they feel about what they are doing. But what you have to do to get people motivated – and then to keep them that way – is not quite so easy. Good communication is central to this skill. 


If people do not appear to believe what you have to say or seem to be bored, you may have underestimated how much your expression and gestures need to reflect and enhance what you say. To be perceived as a credible communicator, you need to pay as much attention to your movements and tone of voice, as to the language you use. The ability to generate complex thoughts and then to communicate them effectively plays a central part in managing people.

Communicating involves all manner of activities: conversing, persuading, teaching and negotiating. To be proficient in any of these, it is essential to understand what communicating is all about and to develop the skills required to be more proficient.

People cannot help but communicate. It is fundamental to human behaviour. But whether you communicate your desire for a bowl of strawberries or your disapproval of something, it is not so much what you communicate, but how it is communicated that counts. To be a successful communicator depends on your message being interpreted as credible and appropriate by those on the receiving end. And this often involves a level of negotiation.


If you agree too readily to something, you will always feel you might have done better. Taking time to consider what has been suggested prevents you from acting on impulse and possibly getting locked into a position from which it may be difficult to extricate yourself at later stage. Most
people find themselves undertaking some form of negotiation every day of their lives; although often they do not recognise that this is what they are doing because they think negotiating is a skill which is only used by those making multi-million dollar deals! But negotiating is a stimulating way to arrive at an acceptable solution to the need for something, whether it is a need to resolve difficulties or to settle terms. It enables individuals to try to get what they want, while giving others a chance to do the same. This is easy if everyone is in agreement, but often can cause friction and difficulties if they are not.

Solving problems

If you find yourself unexpectedly in the middle of a crisis, it could be that somewhere along the line you failed to see a problem looming, or saw it, but did not want to face it. Perhaps you were daunted by the prospect of having to do some hard thinking, or did not think it necessary to describe what was happening. You cannot begin to tackle a problem constructively unless you have defined it.

Much of managing is taken up with overcoming problems which are preventing people from accomplishing their goals. This can often seem a bit like piloting a small dinghy through narrow straits, without maps, distress flares or radio. The amount of effort required recognising the problem initially – tracking down its causes, finding solutions and taking action, can be disconcerting. It may seem easier to ignore what is going on in the hope that it will go away. It never does. Sufficient communication and meetings will help involve others, gain commitment and let them contribute to better solutions.

Running meetings

If you are seen to be totally focused on getting results, others will take their cue from you; and, if everyone gives the meeting their full attention, a successful outcome is more or less guaranteed. At the very least, you should never hear others complain about any meeting you have run as having been a waste of time. Positive and productive outcomes are the key objectives of any meeting. Unfortunately, most people say that many of the meetings they attend are futile and achieve little. Running meetings productively and efficiently is a relatively straightforward process. Even if you have never run one before, doing a little preparation in advance and being prepared to take control will go a long way to ensuring that a meeting achieves its purpose. Remember, meetings are just a collection of people, with different opinions, agendas and motivations whom you are steering towards a common idea.

Understanding behaviour

If you make the effort to understand behaviour, you will find it very much easier to manage your own life and get on better with other people. Knowing more about the origins of behaviour allows you to understand that when people do not behave like themselves, there is probably a very good reason, and that when they do not behave like you, they are simply behaving like themselves. And understanding yourself first is the key to understanding others.

The main way people judge others is by observing their behaviour and coming to conclusions. But this is somewhat akin to judging the extent of an iceberg by its tip. As everyone knows, 90 per cent of its structure is hidden beneath the surface. No one knows exactly what is lurking in the ocean depths. The behaviour that occasions most interest is problem behaviour. When people are behaving well, there is no necessity to explore the reasons for their behaviour. But when they are not, it forms a subject for endless speculation. Understanding what could be causing this can help considerably when coping with it.

Managing yourself

If you are not to find yourself simply falling in with whatever happens at the time, you have to draw a line across your life and decide what you want to do. Managing yourself is something that few people spend any time on at all. Life is not a dress rehearsal, so whether you work for a large practice, manage a team or run your own branch, it is vital that you make the most of the opportunities which present themselves.

Most people want to do better in their endeavours and feel good about themselves. Those who achieve a measure of success are happy and productive, and the ability to manage yourself effectively is an essential element in this process.

New VPMA president is vet nurse

There was a record attendance at the Veterinary Practice Management Association (VPMA) 16th annual congress at which veterinary nurse and practice manager, Highlights included an inspirational opening talk from Pete Goss, international yachtsman, former Royal Marine and winner of a Legion d’Honneur for saving another sailor in the middle of a race after turning his yacht round and sailing into hurricane force winds for two days. There were also interesting lectures, workshops, a ‘networking party’ which attracted 70 delegates, and the ever- popular dinner dance.

Rebekka Fioram with outgoing VPMA president, Iain Lorraine

Rebekka has set herself a challenging brief for VPMA Congress 2011, “Next year we have some exciting plans to roll VPMA Congress out to a wider audience. We aim to broaden our appeal and have planned highly relevant lecture streams that will appeal to vets, nurses and experienced practice managers alike.” 


Alan Robinson bvsc mrcvs dms

Alan qualified as a veterinary Surgeon in Australia and has 23 years' experience of practice in the UK and Australia. He has run his own mixed, multi-branch practice for 12 years in the UK and studied for a Diploma in Management. He has worked as a consultant in the areas of technical service, training, product development and marketing for the veterinary pharmaceutical industry and has successfully delivered coaching and management consultancy in electronics, pharmaceutical, global retail and veterinary industries. Vetfocus UK, www.vetfocus.co.uk, was formed in 1995 in response to a need within the veterinary industry for a more integrated approach to management and marketing.

• VOL 25 • No3 • March 2010 • Veterinary Nursing Journal