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Succession planning for Magnet® Program Director


Succession planning for key nursing leadership positions is important to sustain forward movement in an organization. If your organization is on the journey to achieving Magnet® recognition from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or seeks to sustain its Magnet designation, the Magnet Program Director (MPD) role is critical. Our organization, Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia, developed an MPD succession plan to strengthen our transformational journey toward nursing practice excellence as we neared our third application to the Magnet Recognition Program®.

ANCC requires a single contact with each Magnet organization, which the MPD role fulfills. No structured guidelines or requirements exist for the MPD role. Each organization establishes specific MPD roles and responsibilities to meet its individual needs; these vary across organizations based on size and available resources. MPD responsibilities range from demographic data collection and coordination, to shared governance, to inpatient operations.

Other variations include reporting structure and competency requirements. For example, MPD skills and competencies often overlap those of many other nursing leadership roles, such as director and professional development specialist. But MPDs also must have knowledge, skills, and abilities specific to the Magnet Recognition Program. Variations in role, responsibilities, skills, competencies, and reporting structure validate the need for a detailed MPD succession plan. (See What is succession planning? by clicking the PDF icon above.)

How we developed our succession plan

Initially, Carilion Clinic lacked a succession plan for the MPD role. But during a critical transition period among MPDs, our nursing leaders recognized the need to develop a written plan. We explored published best practices for succession planning to ensure our strategies would be effective in preparing future MPDs. Although only limited research exists that clearly defines best practices for healthcare succession planning, we used the work of Mary-Anne Ponti as a guide. According to Ponti, succession management is imperative for nurse executive replacements (as well as other key nursing leadership positions). Ponti and her colleagues at Northern Michigan Regional Hospital in Petoskey, Michigan, support the American Organization of Nurse Executive’s (AONE’s) nurse-executive competencies for all nurse leaders, regardless of their specific leadership role. We found that Ponti’s description of succession planning for top nursing leaders shared certain elements with the planning described in healthcare succession management literature.

First, we established that the MPD is a key leadership position in our Magnet-designated organization. We adopted the AONE nurse-executive competencies related to the domains of communication and relationship building, knowledge of the healthcare environment, leadership, professionalism, and business skills for the framework of MPD competencies. But we also added a new domain that is ANCC Magnet Program specific. This additional domain represents the unique knowledge, skills, and abilities we defined as required of an MPD. The combination of the AONE nurse-executive competencies and our new Magnet-specific domain represents the comprehensive skill set needed for nurses to transition to an MPD role effectively.

Matching core competencies with milestones

Next, we matched core competencies with milestones or critical success factors, which we defined as representing actual behaviors needed to progress through adaptation of a sequential skill-acquisition framework. Using Patricia Benner’s novice-to-expert principles, we defined milestones for the first two levels—novice and advanced beginner—because our organization already used these concepts. A successful MPD candidate builds skills and advances through the first two levels on the path to becoming an MPD. (See Carilion’s MPD succession plan by clicking the PDF icon above.)

Developmental strategies

We also defined strategies to guide individual developmental plans and mentoring of top candidates. These strategy areas include classroom and electronic-system learning modules currently available in our organization. Other developmental strategies are project-related assignments, mentoring, coaching, job shadowing, and external resources. External resources for advancing the knowledge of future MPDs include attendance at ANCC workshops related to the Magnet Recognition Program and the annual National Magnet Conference®.

Implementing our succession plan

Our succession plan isn’t the typical lengthy narrative. Rather, it’s an innovative grid that includes target dates and responsibilities, such as forming relationships among organizational leaders and interprofessionals. Besides providing the preparation structure for MPD candidates, the plan offers a framework for applicant selection when it comes time to determine our next MPD.

Succession planning for the MPD role is an essential process for Magnet-designated organizations and those on the Magnet journey. A written plan with the organization’s specific MPD responsibilities, skills, and strategies for acquiring competencies provides direction for successor development. Plan management provides a successor candidate pool and promotes continuity of the organization’s strategic goal of sustaining or achieving Magnet designation.

The authors work at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia. Jennifer A. Martin is senior director. Michele P. Holskey is Magnet Program Director and nursing project manager.


Advisory Board Company. Most hospitals CEOs lack succession plans. August 9, 2012. www.advisory.com/Daily-Briefing/2012/08/09/Most-hospital-CEOs-lack-succession-plans. Accessed June 30, 2013.

American Organization of Nurse Executives. The AONE Nurse Executive Competencies. 2011. http://www.aone.org/resources/nec.pdf. Accessed July 6, 2013.

Benner P. From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; 1984.

Ponti MA. Transition from leadership development to succession management. Nurs Admin Q. 2009;33(2):125-41.

Ponti MA, Devet R. Transforming nursing leadership roles: from CNO to CEO. Nurs Admin Q. 2012;36(1):12-6.

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