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What Does a CNO Do?

If you aspire to work in the highest rank of nursing management with dreams of swapping your nursing scrubs for a suit, you might want to explore the role of a chief nursing officer (CNO). CNOs perform much of their work behind the scenes. A review of the skills and responsibilities might provide a better understanding of this role in nursing leadership.

Years of experience and a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) are usually necessary to be considered for this executive position. Lamar University’s accredited online MSN in nursing administration program can help you prepare to rise above the ranks.

Many Titles with One Overarching Goal

Each healthcare facility may assign different titles and responsibilities for this executive role. Generally, the CNO is the nursing leader who oversees the implementation of patient care within an organization.

The ever-changing healthcare environment challenges CNOs to find methods to provide excellent care while containing costs, whether they work in a hospital or other healthcare facility. Broad clinical experience, ambitious goals and a solid education can help the CNO contribute to the organization’s success.

CNO Skills and Responsibilities

The American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) identifies the five essential competencies for the nurse executive as communication, knowledge, leadership, professionalism and business skills. Although these help the CNO achieve success, a mentor can assist in the development of strong leadership skills and a better comprehension of the tasks and responsibilities involved with the role.

Communication – CNOs represent the nurses in the boardroom, and they also represent their organization in the community. Strong critical thinking and strategic planning skills can help CNOs understand the rapid changes in healthcare. Exceptional people skills help them lead, motivate and influence others to meet the goals of the organization.

The influence and expertise of a CNO often results in invitations to serve on community boards and professional organizations, chair committees, or serve as a spokesperson.

Knowledge – The overall management and supervision of nursing staff is usually the responsibility of the CNO. Their goal is to maintain patient safety and improve patient outcomes. A broad knowledge base of the healthcare environment and the ability to visualize how each part of the organization works is valuable to improve clinical practice, incorporate policies and ensure adherence to required regulations.

Leadership – Effective CNOs understand that it takes more than one person to improve patient standards and achieve a healthcare facility’s goals. Visionary and strategic thinking skills assist them to act as a positive change agent. Through collaboration with senior management, mentoring and promoting ongoing succession planning, the CNO strives for long-term stability and growth of the organization.

Professionalism – Personal career development and ongoing self-improvement are essential to maintain competency and grow as a CNO. In order to influence others in a meaningful way, CNOs act as advocates, are accountable for their actions, and consider how their decisions serve as an example.

Business – The CNO’s role encompasses more than just nursing skills. Responsibilities often include budgeting, recruiting staff, and increasing productivity levels. Human resources, financial and IT skills are necessary to effectively organize, direct and coordinate staff.

The CNO’s Impact on Nurses

Although CNOs usually do not work on the floor, their broad influence impacts the practice of nursing, patient care and clinical outcomes.

  • They make high-level decisions regarding clinical and patient standards as well as policy and procedure development that impact staffing levels.
  • Their leadership style influences the work environment.
  • They can empower and mentor nursing staff.
  • They influence the culture of the organization.
  • They have an impact on staff morale as well as recruitment and retention.

Taking Care of Business

A CNO has the opportunity to bring nursing issues from the bedside to the boardroom and advocate for positive change in the day-to-day work of nurses. The CNO’s role can be challenging, but professional rewards often accompany the heavy responsibilities. The courses at Lamar University can help you gain a better understanding of this role and prepare you for success.

Learn more about Lamar University’s Master of Science in Nursing in Nursing Administration online.


American Nurses Association: From Nurse to CNO: What It Takes to Make the Leap

Medscape: So You Want to Be a Chief Nursing Officer?

Hospitals & Health Networks: The Effective CNO: 5 Skills Great Nurse Leaders Use to Manage Change

American Organization of Nurse Executives: AONE Nurse Leader Competencies

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