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Five Ways to Be a DNS Who SNF Staff Want to Follow

by Caralyn Davis, Staff Writer

As the nursing department leader in long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC), the director of nursing services (DNS) needs a hefty toolbox of clinical skills. However, leadership skills are also critical in building an effective team that practices open communication. Here are five ways that the DNS can set the right tone:

Make the first move

The DNS should take the time to ask the nursing staff, including the nurse managers: “What can I do to support you and maintain open communication?” says Suzy Harvey, RN-BC, RAC-CT, director of clinical specialty services for Foster Senior Living in Springfield, MO. “Creating and maintaining a culture of open communication takes work. You—and in turn your nurse managers—have to make the effort rather than wait for staff to make the effort. However, if you take the initiative, staff will react in a positive way. Developing good communication channels will drive employee satisfaction, morale, and the overall quality of care for residents.”

Be approachable even when you’re mood isn’t great

Having mood swings and bad moods is part of being human, points out Harvey. “However, the DNS can’t afford to have outbursts over things that happen. And even when you are having a bad day, you need take a step back and remember that your goal is to make yourself approachable to staff and residents. An approachable demeanor will bring you more information—more open communication—than a sour mood or disposition. Putting a smile on your face for your staff and your residents signals that you are available to connect with them when they have a concern.”

Be mindful during conversations

When listening to a staff member about either a personal or a work-related issue, the DNS should be sincere and demonstrate respect, says Harvey. “You have to listen intently and make eye contact. Also, ask for clarification on an issue if you are unsure that you understand exactly what they are telling you.”

The DNS also needs to give staff full attention, says Harvey. “Whether you’re on the floor or in your office, if a staff member is telling you something that is very important to them, you should avoid electronic distractions. You should even let the phone go to voice mail if it rings. You don’t want to break that communication with your staff. In addition, every nursing home leader is always encouraging staff to not be on their phones and to pay attention to residents when they provide care. You should model that behavior by not being on any device when they talk to you.”

Be a sounding board, not a life coach

While it’s important to be willing to talk to staff about personal issues, the DNS shouldn’t be handing out advice on a regular basis, says Harvey. “You don’t want to get too involved in your staff members’ lives, so only offer advice if you are specifically asked for it. Instead, focus on truly listening to them and showing empathy by acknowledging their problems and issues.”

Don’t play favorites

It’s human nature to like some people more than others, acknowledges Harvey. “However, as the nursing leader, you have to follow your facility’s policies and procedures no matter what and apply them to all staff equally and fairly. You must be impartial in order to set a standard of what is right and proper. If you make an exception for one person who is your favorite, that could result in either harm or substandard care to your residents—and damage your ability to have open communication with other staff who see different standards being applied depending on each staff member’s relationship with you.”

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