Charge Nurse vs. Nurse Manager: Differences in Leadership

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Nurses play a critical role in the nation’s health care system, and nursing leaders are a force that guides those nurses in providing top-quality care.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that nurses are the largest segment of the health care workforce. Nursing leaders, such as charge nurses and nurse managers, help shape the attitudes and performance of these nurses as well as the level of care they provide.

The importance of the work of nursing leaders, coupled with nursing shortages, is helping to fuel the demand for advanced-level nurses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts faster-than-average growth for nursing jobs — and health care jobs overall — between 2020 and 2030, which means both charge nurses and nurses managers will be in high demand.

Advanced education such as a master’s in nursing degree program can prepare aspiring nursing leaders to take on the critical tasks that these positions require. But when it comes to charge nurse vs. nurse manager roles, what do each of these jobs entail, and what are the similarities and differences between the two?

Charge Nurse and Nurse Manager: Definitions and Roles

While charge nurses and nurse managers are both leaders who help guide the level of care patients receive, the two roles are distinct. Charge nurses provide patient care and also have administrative responsibilities. Nurse managers focus more on administrative duties.

What Does a Charge Nurse Do?

A charge nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who oversees a department of nurses. Individuals in this role call on clinical and managerial skills to care for patients while also providing guidance and leadership to other nurses who are working with patients. Charge nurse is a static, full-time position in some health care facilities, while others rotate the role among nurses according to shift. Among the duties of a charge nurse are:

  • Nursing responsibilities — Charge nurses perform clinical tasks such as monitoring and assessing patients and their vital signs, reporting on patients’ progress to other medical professionals, and communicating with patients and families about care plans.
  • Administrative responsibilities — Charge nurses also are responsible for administrative tasks such as coordinating staffing and supplies, delegating tasks to other nurses, monitoring patient admissions and discharges, and ensuring the smooth operation of their department’s functions.

What Does a Nurse Manager Do?

Nurse managers primarily focus on administrative functions, working to improve patient care by suggesting new ideas and approaches to employees who work directly with patients — and sharing those ideas with other administrators in their health care facility. While they do provide patient care as needed, nurse managers’ responsibilities mostly include:

  • Coordinating meetings
  • Developing work schedules
  • Making personnel decisions
  • Offering training and mentoring
  • Guiding budget decisions
  • Collaborating with physicians and other medical personnel

Nurse smiling with other health care professionals in the background.

Charge Nurse vs. Nurse Manager: Differences and Similarities

When comparing the roles of charge nurse vs. nurse manager, differences are revealed in the amount of face-to-face patient contact each job entails, the job scope of employees supervised by each type of leader, and the level of education required for each job. The roles are similar in that they both involve working at medical facilities to guide other nurses in their work, addressing their questions, and helping staff navigate changes in policies and procedures. Both roles also require in-depth knowledge and a significant amount of experience. Following is a closer look at these differences and similarities in the jobs.

Differences Between Charge Nurse and Nurse Manager

Charge nurses and nurse managers often bring different backgrounds to their roles, which in some cases call for differing types of work. Among the areas of differences between the roles are:

  • Patient contact — Charge nurses frequently provide direct patient care in addition to their administrative responsibilities. Nurse managers typically have only limited contact with patients.
  • Employee supervision — Charge nurses supervise a department’s nurses during a work shift. Nurse managers’ supervisory role is broader, encompassing a wider array of administrative responsibilities for nurses as well as support staff who provide care.
  • Education level — Charge nurses generally hold associate or bachelor’s degrees, though they may need Master of Nursing (MSN) degrees for their position. Nurse managers typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree and often have an MSN.
  • Certifications available — Charge nurses don’t have certifications specific to their role, although they may hold other nursing certifications or those for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS). In addition to those certifications, nurse managers may hold certified in executive nursing practice (CENP) or certified nurse manager and leader (CNML) designations.

Similarities Between Charge Nurse and Nurse Manager

Both charge nurse and nurse manager job descriptions generally call for experienced RNs who will help direct nursing care at a medical facility. The following provides further details about these similarities:

  • Leadership role — Charge nurses and nurse managers are leaders who help guide the care provided by a health care facility’s nurses, ensuring it meets the facility’s standards and the latest legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Work location — Professionals in both roles typically work at hospitals or other medical facilities.
  • Experience level — Charge nurses and nurse managers are advanced-level positions that generally call for years of nursing experience.
  • Licensing requirement — Nursing leaders in both positions typically are licensed RNs, with some holding additional licensing as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Charge Nurse and Nurse Manager: Salary and Job Outlook

Looking at the salary and job outlook for each can be helpful when evaluating charge nurse vs. nurse manager roles. According to the AACN, RNs are among the nation’s best-paid professionals. Nursing leadership is in high demand, with the AACN citing an anticipated shortage of RNs across the United States through 2030, even as the nation works to accommodate shifting demographic and health care needs.

Charge Nurse and Nurse Manager Salaries

Salaries can vary according to factors such as location and experience level, but median salaries for charge nurses and nurse managers outpace the $41,950 median annual pay for all occupations tracked by the BLS. National median salaries for charge nurses and nurse managers are as follows:

  • Charge nurses — PayScale reports that the median annual salary of charge nurses is around $74,300 as of 2021. The top 10% of earners among charge nurses made $101,000 or more.
  • Nurse managers — PayScale reports that nurse managers’ median annual salary is around $87,600 as of 2021. The top 10% of annual salaries reached $118,000 or more.

Charge Nurse and Nurse Manager Job Outlook

The job outlook for the health care sector, especially high-level professionals, is strong for the coming years, according to the BLS.

It projects 9% job growth for RNs from 2020 to 2030, a pace that’s just ahead of the 8% anticipated average growth for all jobs during that period. For health care overall, the BLS predicts 16% job growth.

The job outlook for leadership roles is even brighter: The BLS projects 45% and 32% growth for APRNs and medical and health services managers, respectively, between 2020 and 2030. Those rates translate to about 29,400 additional jobs each year for APRNs and 51,800 new openings each year for medical and health services managers. Among the reasons for these projections are:

  • Aging population — The number of people age 65 and older in the United States grew by more than a third from 2010 to 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The aging population is creating a need for additional health care services, especially those for chronic conditions.
  • Focus on preventive care — The medical community has shifted its attention toward offering more proactive treatment, creating a need for additional care to help people stave off future health problems.
  • Staffing shortages — The BLS projects about 194,500 RN openings each year from 2020 to 2030 because of nurses leaving the profession for other jobs or for retirement. Additionally, those nurses who enter the field to replace those who are leaving will need experienced leadership.

Improve Patient Care Through Nurse Leadership

Whether you’re caring for patients or guiding the work of other professionals who provide that care, you can make a difference in health care as a charge nurse or nurse manager. Hawai’i Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing can equip you to make that impact, providing an advanced nursing education that emphasizes the importance of top-quality care for people from all walks of life. The program offers Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)-educated RNs this high-level education with the convenience and flexibility of online learning.

Discover how HPU’s online Master of Science in Nursing program can help you reach your professional goals.

Recommended Readings:

10 Effective Nursing Communication Skills for Nurse Leaders

Patient Rights and the Essential Role of Nurses

Which Nurse Practitioner Specialty Is Right for Me?


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American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Fact Sheet

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

American Heart Association, Basic Life Support (BLS)

American Journal of Nursing Science, “The Nurse Manager’s Role in the Primary Nursing Care Model: A Review of Clinical and Management Aspects"

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Certified in Executive Nursing Practice Certification

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Certified Nurse Manager and Leader Certification

Indeed, Charge Nurse Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Indeed, Nurse Manager Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

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PayScale, Average Nursing Manager Salary

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U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

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