This study has three aims: 1) to examine the present role of hospital nurse directors; 2) to find out what changes will occur in their role in the near future; and 3) to explore what their future role should be. The data were collected by a means of a mail questionnaire in winter 1990 from 50 nurse directors and 42 chief physicians of departments and 50 head nurses of wards from five Finnish university hospitals and from five other large acute hospitals. The nurse directors assessed their present role as being the most active and the head nurses as the least active in the examined 27 leadership functions. Largest differences were found in the evaluation of the hospital nurse directors' present role between the nurse directors themselves and the head nurses. However, in respect to the future work role the head nurses and nurse directors had rather similar expectations. Both emphasized research and development of the nursing staff and nursing care. The chief physicians thought that nurse directors should concentrate more on the internal leadership functions of the hospitals such as personnel management, solving the conflicts between the staff and performing routine functions of personnel management. The nurse directors themselves emphasized the external functions of hospitals in their present and future work role, such as networking and negotiations outside the hospitals and financial management. The differences in the evaluations of the present role and in the expectations concerning the future role of nurse directors indicate conflicting views between the the three groups. All respondents perceived nurse directors as being important and needed in hospitals. They also considered that non-nurses cannot function as directors of nursing services.