There are those who lead, follow and those who delegate — knowing how and when to do these is what truly makes a powerful nurse leader. By rising to a leadership role, you will be instrumental in crafting a vision, providing perspective, and lending your expertise to your peers and those under your charge. A leader is also called upon to make strategic improvements that affect patient care, as well as foster a safe and healthy work environment.

Leadership Qualities in Nursing

Leadership qualities and competencies are essential for all nurses, whether or not an individual is in a formal nursing leadership position. Nursing performance expectations that rely on leadership skills include serving as a patient advocate, leading a project, communicating professionally, and making an effective case for a necessary change or improvement. Our profession relies on nursing professionals in leadership positions to plan, navigate, and forge a path forward. These leaders work with interdisciplinary teams comprised of nurses and other health professionals, as well as with business leaders, vendors, consumers, and community members to accomplish goals. If you enjoy the challenges and satisfaction that arise from bringing people together, setting a high bar for excellence, and creating a professionally rewarding workplace culture, then consider pursuing a formal nursing leadership role.

Nurse Leader Role: Understanding the Titles

Nursing leadership roles may be highly diverse or may fall into the most known titles of nurse manager, director, chief nursing officer (CNO) or chief nursing executive (CNE). With each progressive career transition, there is a change in scope of responsibility and overall circle of influence. Whereas the nurse manager may be primarily responsible for unit outcomes and report to a director, a CNO/CNE bears responsibility for the broad realm of professional nursing practice across the organization. The CNO/CNE’s influence extends to interactions with other executives in the institution and may have a reporting relationship to the president. Role functions might include presentations to the board of directors, as well as collaboration with community leaders, health care consumers, and the general public as the “face of nursing” for the organization.

The foundation of senior and executive leadership is built upon the knowledge and experience derived from prior roles. Skills gained as a nurse manager place an individual in a much stronger position to apply for a director role. At the executive level, CNOs typically have served as directors or vice presidents. Similarly, the CNE, who is accountable for nursing practice in a multi-hospital or large, integrated health system, most often has held a prior CNO position.

Understanding the various leadership role choices and the expectations for each level can help you better align your career goals with your professional advancement plan.

What are Good Leadership Skills in Nursing?

Nurse leadership qualities include a myriad of skill sets, some of which have nothing to do with nursing and healthcare, but indirectly affect patient care. As a leader, you must remain fully informed of not only the pressing issues that impact the nursing practice but keep abreast of changes on the horizon. Some of the focus areas for today’s nurses in leadership include:

A Drive to Improve Health Care Quality

In order to improve health care quality, nurses in leadership roles look for ways to create a patient patient-centered care program. Administrators are often in line with a “patient first,” mentality as patient health and happiness often fuel the financial health and reputation of the organization. Nurses in leadership roles focus on key drivers of patient outcomes, including care coordination for seamless transitions, and intentionally designed systems of care delivery to promote quality and safety.

Creating and sustaining a healthy work environment

Healthy work environments attract and retain talented, engaged nurses and effectively combat clinician burnout. Nurse leaders in these environments foster high levels of autonomy, professional development, teamwork, communication, recognition, interdisciplinary collaboration, and employee safety.

Preventing workplace violence

The incidence of workplace violence has dramatically increased in recent years due to societal issues such as substance use/misuse and escalating behavioral health needs in the community. Nurse managers, directors, and others in leadership positions often collaborate with other health facility leaders. Collaboration among team leaders not only helps to reduce friction between departments, but also address patient-specific considerations such as falls incidents, elopement, and other safety and security issues.

Promoting nursing work-life balance

Nursing is a rigorous profession. Nursing directors and managers play a pivotal role in cultivating a healthy, alert, and engaged workforce. To foster a healthy work-life balance, nurse managers (or directors) often closely coordinate with the head of scheduling in order to balance staff members’ needs for rest, downtime, and those last-minute family emergencies that pop up frequently with a large nursing staff.

Addressing nursing shortages and workforce funding

In managing a nursing staff, leaders must forecast workforce requirements, advocate for and justify the financial resources necessary to meet patient care needs, and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to recruit and retain top nursing talent.

Fostering research to generate new knowledge and translate findings to inform evidence-based practice

Nursing leaders set the expectation, allocate the resources, and enable the translation of research findings into practice. In this capacity, they support the ongoing development of nursing science.

For more information on the key issues that nurse leaders face, click here.

Leadership Skills in Nursing: Lead to Succeed

As leaders of the most trusted profession and largest component of the health care workforce, successful nurse leaders motivate and inspire others to work together in pursuit of a common goal.

Effective leaders develop a distinctive set of personal qualities that include integrity, emotional intelligence, courage, initiative, autonomy, and the ability to balance multiple and often competing priorities. They demonstrate the capability to think critically, set strategic goals, skillfully communicate, and effectively collaborate with diverse stakeholders. Acquiring these leadership skills in nursing takes intention, honest self-reflection and critique, and real-world experience. Consider seeking a mentoring relationship with a more experienced nurse leader to gain insights and improve your performance. As part of the organization’s professional development initiatives, the American Nurses Association offers a six-month mentorship program.

Nine Principles to Improve Your Effectiveness as a Leader

According to American Nurse Today, the official journal of ANA, there’s an extraordinary quality of spirit that prompts one to aspire to lead. The following nine principles provide a ready blueprint for leadership success that will help you evaluate and enhance your leadership effectiveness.

Click here to learn about all 9 principles.

Resources for Professional Development

Each progressive leadership level from bedside expert to health system vice president requires new skills and competencies as role scope, accountability, and span of control expand. Ongoing continuing education is a vital aspect of ongoing leadership success. Online educational options assist the busy leader to access content when convenient, at home or in the workplace.

Upcoming Educational Conferences and Events

The networking opportunities at professional meetings and conferences will help you develop valuable new connections to nursing leaders outside of your usual domain. Upcoming events and educational opportunities include:

ANCC Nursing Continuing Professional Development (NCPD) Summit March 18th, 2020 Nashville, Tennessee
2020 ANCC Pathway to Excellence Conference® May 13th–15th, 2020 Palm Beach, Florida
ANCC National Magnet Conference® October 7th–9th, 2020 Atlanta, Georgia

Leadership Certification

Preparing for and becoming certified as a Nurse Executive (NE-BC) or Nurse Executive, Advanced (NEA-BC) is not only a mark of professional excellence—it validates that you possess a distinctive body of leadership knowledge that will give you a competitive edge in the job market.