RESEARCH – June 2008

Head nurses’ roles


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THE AIM of this study was to describe leader’s roles in the work of head nurses, based on the example of an Estonian hospital. The theoretical starting points of the research relied on management related literature and the leader’s roles as described by Henry Mintzberg. According to Mintzberg, leaders fulfil first and foremost the roles connected with communication, information and decision-making.

METHODS. A semi-structured interview based on Henry Mintzberg’s model of the leader’s roles was used. Data were analysed using content analysis. The participants were 16 head nurses working in hospitals.

RESULTS. Five main roles of head nurses were identified: communicator, sharer of information, decision-maker, expert and “mother”. The role of the communicator involves taking initiatives and keeping contact with different units. As the sharer of information the head nurse receives, searches and further shares information. The head nurse makes decisions about new issues and resources, and resolves misunderstandings as well as participates in various negotiations on behalf of nurses. The role of “mother” can be described as a supporter, a maternal educator and a person who provides nurses’ small talk.

CONCLUSION. Mintzberg’s model worked quite well in describing the leader’s roles and work of head nurses in hospitals of Estonia. It is possible that the fifth role, “mother”, describes the head nurses’ real worry about coping in stressful nursing situations, while this could be understood from the view point of head nurses’ background as nurses.