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10 Ways to be Smart in the Workplace

How to be smart in the workplace

These are some top tips to help you succeed in your workplace.

Acknowledge Informal Leaders

Informal leaders are on every work unit. An informal leader can be a peer or a subordinate and does not hold a formal leadership title. Nonetheless, they have influence and referent power. They are often top performers and have organizational expertise.How to be smart in the workplace

Evelyn has been a unit secretary  on her nursing unit for 11 years. If she likes you, she can help you in countless ways. She can call to get a stat diet tray for a patient, or pull an extra pen out of her drawer when you have lost all three you brought to work. She knows to call Eddy in IT on his cell and not Greg on the main extension to get a computer fixed.  She can unjam the copy machine when no one else can, and can even persuade nurses to come in and work extra.

Informal leaders generally want to be acknowledged and respected, and then they are loyal and helpful coworkers.

Be  Organizationally Savvy

Not many nurses I know enjoy politics. Some consider it a value or badge of honor to remain naive about organizational politics. But being savvy doesn’t mean you have to play politics. It means you have insight into how decisions are made that influence yourself, your coworkers, and your patients.

Looking outside of your own unit to understand how it fits into the larger organization provides context and perspective.  It’s wise to familiarize yourself with the org chart at your facility.

Who does your manager report to, and who does that person report to? In hospitals, most nurses fall under the department of nursing, but not always. For example, Surgery and oupatient area nurses may fall under a non-nursing department and executive leader. In that case, it can be harder to advance nursing agendas.

Some managers are considered more influential than others if their department is large or generates more revenue. Those managers are  likely to have more resources at their disposal, and are better able to influence policy.

Who are the movers and shakers? Is there nepotism? It can be helpful to know that the new nursing assistant, Amy,  is the niece of your director.

Know When  to be Right and When to Let it go

When is it wrong to be right? It’s wrong when someone doesn’t know when to let something go, or when they perseverate on a minor point.  The person who insists on being right to prove that they are smarter than others….is not work smart.

During orientation, a new employee, Steve, makes edits to the handouts he was given, correcting the grammar and sentence structure. On the last day of orientation, he returned the handouts to the instructor, complete with his corrections and suggestions for improvements.  Was he right or was he wrong? Yes.

What’s Important to Your Boss is Important to You

Your work efforts must align with your boss’s agenda. If patient satisfaction scores are the priority for your boss at the moment, then patient satisfaction scores must be your priority as well.  Likewise, if VTE prophylaxis has to be documented a particular way, it doesn’t mean that your priority of spending time with patients is not important. It means that your organization’s leadership has determined that certain things need to be done a certain way to stay in business, to succeed more in business, or to meet regulations.

Listen to your boss to learn what he/she values. People repeat important things. The rule of threes says that if someone repeats something three times in a conversation, then  it is highly important to them.

Helping your boss succeed is smart and will not go unnoticed.


It is important, especially when you’re new on the job, to graciously accept social invitations and get to know your co workers. This shows that you value them and want to get to know them.

Be careful not to get too comfortable and gossip in an effort to bond. Maintain boundaries that are comfortable for you.

Get involved with activities, as you will be seen as an engaged employee.

Avoid Drama

Identify and steer clear of the drama people.

Ashlee is new on the unit and her preceptor is known to be brusque. One day Ashlee’s preceptor speaks to Ashlee somewhat sharply in the nurses station by the Pyxis. Another nurse, Jena, overhears the encounter and later approaches Ashlee. “I saw how she treated you. She runs people off the unit. Don’t put up with that!”

Jena is attempting to befriend Ashley by  bonding with her against the preceptor.

Be aware of people who take you into their confidence or try to establish an emotional bond prematurely. They are acting out of their own neediness, and not on your behalf.

Be polite and friendly, but don’t make alliances.

Emotional IQ

Emotional IQ is the ability to recognize your own and others emotions.

Be aware of your own triggers and manage your emotions at work. If a certain patient or coworker pushes your buttons, you have an opportunity to learn more about yourself and manage your responses.


Anybody could be laid off at any time without warning and most nurses change jobs several times over their career. Never get so comfortable that you neglect to network.

Are you keeping track of your accomplishments, such as sitting on a committee, working on a PI project? If not, you will forget them when you go to update your resume later.

Are you on LinkedIn and social networks? Join a local chapter of a nursing organization and purpose to meet other nurses.

Be Positive

Smile and make eye contact. Do not complain about work as the negativity will stick to you, not the subject or topic. Knowing how to express your  frustration at work and asking for what you need without spilling over into anger is a needed skill.

Focus on yourself and your own work and not your coworker who may be a slacker.

Choose your attitude at work- choose happiness.

Handling Setbacks and Rejection and Constructive Criticism

Our worst traits come out under stress. People are looking to see how you respond to conflict and constructive criticism. Thank others who give you constructive feedback, and take it under consideration. Remain even keeled and professional.

When you make a mistake, learn from it, forgive yourself and move on. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t identify with your mistake and become paralyzed. In life everyone makes mistakes but people who succeed are able to put them in the rear view mirror.

These are just a few behaviors of successful nurses. What tips have you learned?

Nurse Beth, Author “Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job..and your next!” 

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Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth  career column at for all kinds of  entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question :) 

About Beth Hawkes (146 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.

1 Comment on 10 Ways to be Smart in the Workplace

  1. I cannot imagine the health care industry with our Nurses. They has a huge responsibility to make sure each Patients meet their needs. They work for long hours and yet they still do their task accordingly. My huge respects to them.

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