What are Nursing Leadership Skills?


Nurses are natural managers. As patient advocates, they have a rightful place among leadership in the medical community. But it takes more than an education to lead others. Whether it’s managing one case or directing an entire facility, nurses need a wide range of practical and people skills to make the most of their leadership potential.

Why Become a Nurse?

Nursing is a noble profession dedicated to serving others. It’s hard work, but the benefits are worth it. Nurses help others, aid the community, work with a dedicated team and enjoy professional freedom.

Help People Live Build Better Lives

Wellness is the foundation of a healthy life. Nurses promote healthcare at both the personal and community levels to improve others’ well-being and allow them to thrive regardless of challenges. It’s a personally gratifying role.

Aid Their Communities During Crisis

As the global population grows, the potential for public health crisis increases. As the recent pandemic shows, areas with few frontline healthcare providers suffer the most. Whether it’s bringing information to the masses or providing direct care in a hospital or doctor’s office, nurses play a significant leadership role in their communities during emergencies.

Work with a Dedicated Team

No one likes to feel alone on the job, but that’s the reality for millions who don’t benefit from working with committed colleagues. Members of the healthcare team feel supported and valued.

Enjoy Professional Freedom

Nurses are professional caregivers. They work with a team, yet they practice autonomously. It’s a considerable responsibility, but the trade-off is professional freedom and a sense of personal accomplishment. Few careers that don’t require spending a decade in school offer as much independence.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is the ability to motivate people to work toward achieving a common goal. It’s part inspiration and part perspiration, and it’s as critical to a healthcare organization on the ground level as it is in upper management. Nurses are among the few healthcare providers that work in both, so leadership among nursing staff can make or break an institution’s success.

What Makes a Good Leader?

There are many qualities that make a leader, they include integrity, accountability, empathy, humility, resilience, vision, positivity and reach. With this set of leadership skills, a nurse can be a true leader in their community.

Quality #1: Integrity

Leaders with integrity are trustworthy and reliable. They hold themselves to the highest ethical standards, recognizing that they serve as examples of professional behavior. As educators, nurses who demonstrate integrity find it easier to build trust with their patients. Among staff, reliable leaders inspire confidence and loyalty.

Quality #2: Accountability

Accountability is the foundation of teamwork. An accountable leader includes others in decision-making, but as the person in authority, they accept responsibility for their decisions. They evaluate outcomes both good and bad, adjusting course accordingly and without regret. Associates can be creative without risking blame.

Quality #3: Empathy

Seeing things from others’ points of view is a necessary part of building constructive workplace relationships. An empathetic leader looks for the root causes of failure among staff and uses it to improve their team.

Empathy is also informative as it sheds light on the reasons for shifting morale and identifies barriers to success. Employees have more respect for empathetic leaders.

Quality #4: Humility

Humble leaders know they’re not always the smartest person in the room. They encourage collaboration, respect differences of opinion and genuinely seek out the best ideas regardless of their source. Humility creates a culture of acceptance that promotes teamwork.

Quality #5: Resilience

Resilience is the ability to maintain focus under pressure, it’s how a good leader finds a way to get the job done regardless of setbacks. A resilient nurse bounces back after challenges and learns from them, helping patients do the same. It’s a skill nurses need in all of their many possible roles.

Quality #6: Vision

Ships are easily lost in open water without navigation. Similarly, organizations without a mission are prone to fail. To succeed, organizations need to know where they are and where they’re going. Good leaders not only have this foresight; they know how to communicate it to others. For nurses, vision is how they manage patient care, harnessing team resources to achieve the best health outcomes possible.

Quality #7: Positivity

Positivity sends a strong signal to others, it’s both contagious and motivating. Conversely, negativity saps creativity and the willingness to seek solutions when problems seem insurmountable. Nothing motivates patients and staff more than enthusiasm.

Quality #8: Reach

Business leaders go out of their way to cultivate far-reaching relationships, it’s a way of becoming a part of an industry’s landscape. In healthcare, administrators use their reach to find the financial and intellectual resources required to solve organizational problems. Nurses do the same for their staff and patients, networking with a diverse range of providers who all bring something different to the table.

Who Do Nurses Lead?

Every nurse is a leader. As professionals, they direct nursing care for assigned patients and supervise paraprofessional staff, such as nursing assistants and dietary aides. Charge nurses have a more extensive role, managing other nurses with less experience and ensuring units run smoothly. At the administrative level, nurse leaders serve entire organizations as directors, vice presidents and nurse executives.

Leadership Skills for Nurses

Nurses need both general leadership qualities and specific skills that are indispensable in healthcare, such as critical thinking, communication, active listening, delegation, empowerment, goal setting, professionalism, and advocacy.

Skill #1: Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to analyze facts and come to prudent conclusions. It’s how a nurse knows that a patient with acute chest pain needs medical attention before a patient with a chronic sinus headache. This need to prioritize becomes even more complex as patients need services in higher numbers, and staff competes for scarce resources. No skill is more valuable to nurses than critical thinking.

Skill #2: Communication

The quality of nursing care depends on good communication. From transcribing doctor’s orders to writing detailed notes describing patient care, accuracy is vitally important. But as a leadership skill, communication takes on new and unexpected dimensions.

Nurses spend more one-on-one time with people than any other healthcare provider, so they serve as liaisons between patients, families and other professionals on the healthcare team. The ability to read, write and speak confidently is a must.

Communication is also imperative among colleagues. While care is delivered 24/7, most nurses work 8- or 12-hour shifts, so as staff comes and goes, it’s easy for details to get lost in the shuffle. Accurate documentation and reports that pinpoint critical information are vital.

Communication also matters on a personal level. Without it, workplace relationships fade, and the networking that is so important for clinical leadership comes to a standstill. Nurturing connections with co-workers takes effort, but healthcare is a team sport.

Skill #3: Active Listening

Active listening is a therapeutic technique professionals use to clarify what patients are saying. By extension, it’s also a skill that enhances relationships among peers. The approach requires listeners to focus intently on verbal messages, paraphrasing them aloud to ensure the speaker’s intent is clear. Body language is also observed as a way to evaluate the nuances in conversation. Posture, gestures and facial expressions can speak louder than words.

Skill #4: Delegation

A busy nurse can’t meet the needs of patients without help, tasks that don’t require professional attention should be delegated to assistants and other qualified staff. Letting go of the reigns is hard for some nurses because they’re perfectionists at heart, but the best outcomes rely on teamwork.

With only limited time in a day, trusting others to do work on their behalf lets patients reap the benefits of attentive, comprehensive care. Delegation is an essential skill on a fast-paced nursing unit.

Skill #5: Empowerment

Craftsmen are only as capable as their tools. The best nurse in leadership positions empower excellence and independence in their staff by allowing them to use their judgment and expertise without micromanaging their efforts. The strategy pays off when staff become confident in their abilities and can be trusted to work with less supervision.

Skill #6: Goal Setting

Goals in nursing must be SMART; specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. Why? Because each goal serves as the foundation for the next, only by giving them strict parameters can a nurse evaluate whether they’ve been met.

The same is true for nurse managers’ evaluation of their staff. The point of performance reviews isn’t to reprimand employees for failures; it’s to empower them to improve their performance by establishing clear benchmarks for them to meet. Goals are the pathway to success.

Skill #7: Professionalism

Nursing is a dynamic profession that requires consistent and confident leadership. Nurse leaders represent the field at every level, and as it evolves, they bear the responsibility for instituting systemic improvements within their organizations.

Nurse leaders set the standard for patient care, and they represent staff among the many executives in the healthcare community. Professionalism in dress, speech, and attitude is the skill that makes it possible.

Skill #8: Advocacy

A nurse’s primary role is that of patient advocate. It’s their responsibility to defend the rights and interests of those they serve, honoring their wishes whether or not they agree. In a healthcare setting, that can put nurses at odds with both patients’ families and facility administrators, but in a therapeutic relationship, the patient is always in the driver’s seat.

Final Thoughts

The good news for nursing students is that vocational programs teach more than practical skills, they help attendees develop the qualities necessary for leadership. As rising patient numbers create pressure on healthcare organizations to operate more efficiently, demand for nurses in leadership positions will rise. With the right blend of education and experience, today’s graduates will be well-prepared to take charge.

Are you a nurse that wants a leadership position in your healthcare facility? The RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing/RN-BSN program is designed to provide professionals currently licensed as registered nurses the flexibility of online study to build upon the knowledge gained through previous training and education.¬†Gwinnett Institute’s online program will prepare licensed registered nurses to assume leadership positions in a variety of medical settings including hospitals, long-term care facilities, and various public and private health care agencies.


Contact us today to learn more about the Bachelor’s in Nursing degree program at Gwinnett Institute.