9 skills every outstanding nursery staff manager needs

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December 16, 2020
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Managing staff at a nursery isn't easy.

Not only do you have to nurture and support your staff, but you have to find the time to do it in between the thousand other pressing tasks on your to-do list.

That’s why we’ve broken down everything you need to successfully manage your nursery team into one helpful guide, featuring the nine most important skills you need to develop, along with helpful examples and pointers to help you improve. Not to mention a whole host of featured articles from the experts themselves.

We'll break down those nine different skills and explain why they really matter. Download our guide with all the extra goodies at the bottom of the page, or download it right now.

Skill #1 – Managing individuals

We’ve put this one first for a reason - it's the most important skill that any manager can have. Managing individuals is all about finding and managing every single one of your practitioner’s strengths, and making sure they’re getting a chance to use them.

To do this, it’s important to try and understand their strengths, what activates them, and how they learn best.

And best way to find out all of these is through observation. Spending time in the rooms with your practitioners is the only way to get to know them better.

Trying to improve certain weaknesses might be an attractive idea, but it won't turn your staff into outstanding practitioners. The greatest managers let their practitioners’ existing strengths influence how they run their nursery, rather than the other way around.

Why does it matter?

Across any industry, the biggest motivator for staff is rarely money and, to put it frankly, the nursery sector is not famed for its high staff wages.

No - what motivates people the most is recognition. In turn, the best way to get recognised is by working at the best of our abilities, doing a job that we enjoy, in a way that is beneficial to everyone. This is also how you get the best out of your staff and create a truly special workforce.

You need to learn how staff like to learn to get the best out of them in their role, but you also need to learn how they best receive recognition in order to boost their morale. Perhaps it’s directly from you, in front of all of their colleagues, or maybe from the parents themselves.

Skill #2 – Communication

Knowing each practitioner’s strengths and how to use them best is useless if you don’t know how to communicate with them.

People think communication is about how well you talk, but it’s not. It’s about how well you listen. If people don’t feel like they’re being heard, they’re unlikely to respond very well to what you’re saying, no matter how good it is.

Communication is also about organisation, which we’ll cover in Skill #5. If you’re not organised, you’re never going to have the right information to hand when you need it.

In the same way that you might approach child development, you need to find out what your staff’s interests are and how they like to work conducting regular staff assessments, then deliver on it.

Why does it matter?

Nothing creates more division in a staffroom than last-minute meetings and schedules or being kept in the dark about key developments. This is about honesty, which we’ll cover in Skill #9, but it’s also about keeping everyone properly updated.

The division this can cause is obviously bad for staff morale and your environment. If people don’t know what you have planned, then they are going to be directionless. If people are made to feel a part of the journey and understand their place within it, they are going to feel empowered and will be onboard with what you’re doing.

Skill #3 – Building Trust

Trust is when your practitioners value your insight. They understand that you have their back, and are making decisions for the right reasons, not for selfish ones. Trust is also a key part of giving yourself the time and courage to make changes, as your staff will not be disheartened if they don’t see positive change straight away.

This one is important. Trust is absolutely foundational to everything we mention here. Without it, the relationship you have with your staff will never truly be stable.

Why does it matter?

When you’re leading any team, it’s crucial that the people who you are leading have faith in what you’re doing. This is especially true in a nursery setting where you need staff to trust your instincts on certain matters.

When your staff have trust in you it makes it easier to implement changes and they will have more faith that any temporary imbalances will be resolved. You’ll have a team that works better together and you’ll reduce bickering and discontent growing behind your back.

Skill #4 – Staff Development

If you want to keep your best staff, you can’t let them get stuck doing the same thing week in, week out. Many people enjoy what they’re doing, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to find ways to improve.

Giving training opportunities to everyone is important, while also making sure that you’re identifying those who would benefit from it the most. And don’t forget to consider those learning styles from Skill #1. Giving training and opportunities for staff development doesn’t mean sending everyone on an expensive course.

Why does it matter?

Of course, training doesn’t always come cheap, but you can find ways to train your staff without sending them on an expensive course.

But it's absolutely an investment worth making - staff are your most valuable resource. Making sure that they are developing and improving is not only crucial to their morale, but it’s crucial to your reputation and the success of your nursery.

Skill #5 – Organisation

Time is the enemy of so many nursery managers. When it comes to staffing, you might know what you need to do but simply feel unable to give it the time.

This is organisation. If you can find a way to organise your time successfully, then you’re more likely to find the time for the things that matter. You’re also far less likely to let important things slide. That means fewer last-minute notes or alterations for your practitioners, both of which can easily damage your relationship with them.

Why does it matter?

We’ve already mentioned it, but one of the pet peeves of any member of staff is when they feel like everything is constantly being organised last minute. It almost always feels like your time simply isn’t being respected as a practitioner if you’re not given warning in advance about meetings, shifts, or special training days.

Meetings and training days should be a positive opportunity for staff. These opportunities for communication and development should be a central part of engaging with your staff. But poor organisation and late notice can quickly turn them into a negative.

Skill #6 – Adaptability

Adaptability isn't easy to pin down. But in general, it’s about your ability to react to change and move forward rather than just keeping things the way they’ve always been.

As a nursery manager, the chances are you’re already pretty adaptable. Wearing many different hats, being constantly available, being ready to deal with unplanned challenges - they all show your adaptability. But to be one of the best staff managers, you also have to be prepared to adapt to the big changes too.

Why does it matter?

Things are constantly changing in the nursery sector, now more than ever. Whether it’s 30 hours, the 'schoolification' of early years, or the increased use of technology, if you aren’t able to adapt you’ll be left behind.

But why does this matter to your staff? Because the very best practitioners are going to want to work for a nursery that's modern. Being stuck in old habits isn't very inspiring for ambitious young practitioners – it tells them that you are not open to feedback, and they may end up feeling demotivated. It can end up turning aspirational, excited practitioners into ones who are simply dialling it in.

Skill #7 – Conflict Resolution

It would be lovely if everything was always rosy. But being a nursery manager is part leader and part referee (not to mention the million other parts). Conflict between children, between staff and from parents is just part of the job. But to be a talented staff manager, you have to have the tools to deal with conflict properly.

A lot of this comes from your existing relationship with staff. Trust. Honesty. Strong communication. It all helps when you’re solving a conflict.

A starting point is to stop being concerned about conflict. It’s an inevitable part of what happens when people work together, and it can even bring about important change by bringing underlying problems to the surface.

Why does it matter?

Conflict is an inevitable part of any workplace. But you need to be prepared to resolve it quickly. It will distract from the things that matter and could lower staff morale.

Conflicts that go unresolved can easily fester and cause more problems. They can damage staff relationships and contribute massively to the dreaded rumour mill.

Skill #8 – Perseverance

Perseverance is about looking failure in the face and trying again. It’s an invaluable skill for a manager, especially if you feel like you’re faced with some serious staffing obstacles. Maybe you don’t have the budget you’d like for training, or for more qualified staff. Perhaps it's taking you time to develop certain skills that you know are important. Or maybe you simply feel as though you have staff who are resistant to change.

Either way, having the confidence to persevere when it feels like you’re only making baby steps, and having the resilience to keep going in the face of failure is crucial to building staff trust and getting them on board with your vision.

Why does it matter?

In a very basic sense, if you’re the type of person who is going to give up on something easily, it’s unlikely that your ideas are ever going to succeed.

Perhaps most importantly, failing to persevere is also failing to recognise the faults in your plan. Being ready and available to persevere with your plan is also a way of saying that you’re ready to improve it and work on it too.

Skill #9 – Honesty

To some degree, this goes hand in hand with Skill #3 – Building Trust. Sharing news when things are going well. Sharing news with staff when you’re in a rough patch. Being honest and open about how you spend your time. It’s all part of making people feel involved and engaged with what you’re trying to do at your setting.

This is also about owning up to mistakes when you make them. This can actually help to foster a sense of accountability in your staff too, which is crucial to running a good setting.

Why does it matter?

Honesty about your mistakes can also create an environment where people are more willing to share theirs. If you can communicate that you’re always looking to improve as a manager, then perhaps your staff are more likely to feel like they have room for improvement, too.

It also helps them to buy into the vision, and it helps them feel part of it. This is crucial to keeping your best staff at the setting as well as getting all staff to work better. They’re no longer out for themselves, but considering themselves as part of the wider team.

Keen to find out more? Download a free copy of the full guide below to get access to exclusive interviews, tips and hints, and activities to develop these skills in your setting.

The big ideas

download pdf
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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Learn more about Famly's software for nurseries

Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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“Every time I ask somebody, ‘How is the system going?’, the thing that always come back to me is that staff say ‘You should have done this a long time ago.'" - Neil Leitch, CEO, Early Years Alliance

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Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

Sign up now

Learn more about Famly

Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.

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Learn more about Famly

Find out below from Neil Leitch about the impact of Famly at the Early Years Alliance, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.