CNO Blog - 03. Creative-Imagery-MD-V1 (1)

Strategies to Succeed as a New Chief Nursing Officer

August 11, 2023
August 11, 2023

First-Year CNO? Use These Strategies to Thrive

The first time you are appointed Chief Nursing Officer, you may experience a range of emotions: a sense of accomplishment, excitement, energy, overwhelm and fear. It is normal to feel a little intimidated about taking on a senior leadership position for the first time, and many new CNOs can initially feel lost in their role due to a lack of existing systems to help them transition into an executive position. If you are a new CNO, it is possible to thrive during your first year by using the following strategies to succeed.


Today’s CNO Challenges Require New Coping Strategies

In the past, when healthcare was a volume-based venture, the CNO tended to focus primarily on workforce and care delivery concerns, which were often considered separate from the organization’s business objectives. The CNO might have resided in the C-suite but often stayed out of overarching budget discussions, business analytics and strategic planning.

The role of today’s CNO has expanded quite significantly. This leader needs excellent business skills, a solid grasp of financial and accounting principles, plus technical expertise with various software. As Healthcare Finance News reports, “Today’s CNO must be as comfortable talking about methods to improve productivity and reporting and the strategic importance (or lack thereof) of an IT initiative as they are about patient care initiatives.”

So what can you do to thrive in your first year as a CNO? Try these tactics.


1) Establish trusting relationships

A major factor in your success as a CNO will involve establishing strong, sustaining relationships. Make it a priority to build and cultivate relationships among your colleagues, fellow hospital and health system leaders, and other stakeholders. Doing rounds with caregivers daily or as often as possible is a good idea. Join a local or virtual group of CNO peers to seek advice and obtain support. Also, look for opportunities to strengthen relationships through open communication and modeling authentic and transparent behaviors. For example, develop trust in your new relationships by following through on your commitments and seeking different perspectives from others before you make a decision. Taking these steps will help you build a wide network of people who can serve as your trusted advisors as well as individuals who support your decisions within the organization.


2) Seek feedback from your nursing staff

Make it your mission to establish a workplace culture where leaders ask for feedback. Building this type of feedback culture starts with the leader modeling behavior that values input from others and minimizes defensive responses. You can obtain feedback using different strategies. One way is to shadow nurses within all units and care areas and obtain feedback during those casual interactions. Another approach is to schedule a meeting with a nurse or group of nurses and send them specific questions in advance so they can be prepared to share the feedback. Regularly asking for feedback is an excellent way to learn useful information and improve employee engagement. Furthermore, you will gain insight into your nurses’ true concerns and challenges to address them at the executive level better.


3) Partner with physicians

As you build staff relationships, it is important to engage with your physician peers. Partnering with physicians will help you develop the interdisciplinary teams necessary to deliver a continuum of patient care in the value-based care environment. Decision-making also becomes more effective when the CNO is aligned and engaged in proactive communication with physician leadership. Cultivating well-functioning teams will help prevent leadership silos and support your organization’s top objective to provide excellent care to every patient. “The adoption of a leadership model that emphasizes clinical partnering between physicians and nurses from the executive level to the bedside is an idea whose time has come,” wrote Stephen L. Moore and Kathleen Sanford in their book titled, Dyad Leadership in Healthcare: When One Plus One Is Greater Than Two.


4) Schedule self-care activities

As a first-time CNO, you are entering a stressful phase of life, so you must prioritize your own mental and physical health. To operate at peak efficiency, you must engage in activities that help you feel recharged so you can avoid burnout. The list of rejuvenating activities is different for everybody and can include walking, reading, gardening, cooking or going to the spa. The most important thing is to make time for the activity, and the best way to do this is to schedule it like any other appointment. Practicing self-care is a necessary tactic for nurse leaders to prevent burnout. It is also good to model such behavior as it will encourage your nurse staff to do the same.

5) Hone Your Strategic Thinking Skills

When asked, “What critical skills prepared you for a CNO role?,” the former CNO of Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Rhonda Foster, told American Nurse Today, “Strategic thinking—the ability to think about [both] the system and the person working one shift a month on nights.”

If your strategic thinking skills need improvement, there is still hope. These skills can be learned. The American Management Association calls for leaders to develop a “strategic frame of reference” that incorporates:

  • Organizational vision and mission
  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Strategies
  • Tactics
  • Roles
  • Relationships

You can hone your strategic thinking skills by reading management books and consulting frequently with your executive peers. By working consistently on developing a strategic mindset, you can excel in your first year as a CNO.

To Thrive as a CNO, Maximize Your Use of Technology Solutions

As a CNO, you can maximize efficiency by relying on software tools to manage your daily life. Electronic calendars that sync to your smartphone, routine data reports delivered by IT to your inbox on schedule and workforce scheduling software that frees up your department managers’ time to run their units effectively without always appealing to you for intervention can make your life easier as a CNO. Schedule a complimentary demo of ShiftWizard nurse scheduling software today to discover how much time you (and your staff) can get back – so you can focus on your top priorities and guide your organization to exceptional outcomes.