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8 Leadership Skills Nurses Need To Be Successful

5 Min Read

What does leadership mean to a nurse? There’s more to it than being an expert on the physical needs of patients. Today’s nurses need to keep up with evolving technology and safety standards, changes in policy and organizational climate and a more complex health care system overall. To be an effective leader in nursing, it takes soft skills and critical thinking skills that don’t just come from a textbook.

1. A global perspective or mindset

Any profession that requires working in the community needs employees who embrace diversity and are aware of cultural differences within society1. In the context of healthcare, a global perspective will help nurse leaders to respond effectively to worldwide healthcare trends and adapt them to their work on a national, regional and local level. It is by working together and sharing technologies, strategies and successes worldwide that we can begin to address global healthcare issues.

2. A working knowledge of technology

In order to operate an efficient healthcare service, you need to support it with the right technology. Electronic health records (EHRs) clinical decision support (CDS) and biometrics support daily processes and interactions in healthcare – as well as impacting the collection and use of healthcare data. It is expected that by 2020 these technologies will be commonplace, so arming yourself with the appropriate technical knowledge now will stand you in good stead for the future.

3. Expert decision-making skills

A key quality in any leader or manager is decision-making skills. Healthcare decisions based on research and empirical science are most likely to achieve the desired results. However, decisions in complex environments such as healthcare can often be hard to judge – and look set to become harder in the future2. One decision-making strategy that could be implemented by nurse leaders in the future is using ‘expert networks’; communities made up of top thinkers, researchers, managers and scientists3. Whatever the solution, the process of decision-making needs to be aligned throughout the organization if problems are going to be combated effectively4.

4. Prioritizing quality and safety

Studies suggest that the current healthcare system is let down by errors and not enough focus on patient/worker safety. This has been attributed to a culture of blame, poor communication and a lack of resources within the profession5. In the future, nurse leaders will need to adopt innovative approaches to quality and safety and integrate them into their daily processes.

5. Being politically astute

Politics surrounds us and is part of every organization – and healthcare is no different. Nurse leaders need to make the right political decisions if they are to succeed. Nurse leaders need to be able to identify the finer details of relationships, communication and informal power structures at work. By accurately interpreting these different social situations they can act appropriately when the time comes and act as role models for others.

6. Collaborative and team building skills

Good leadership is all about creating good working relationships, identifying a common purpose with colleagues and working together cooperatively. However, achieving the right balance is not always easy. The focus for nurse leaders needs to be on collaboration, becoming great role models and creating a sense of community through mentoring, clear communication and conflict management6.

7. Balancing authenticity and performance expectations

A true leader is someone who remains true to themselves and their values. Authenticity in leadership is something that today’s organizations need if they are to succeed. In a healthcare system that is increasingly focused on reaching targets and meeting budgets, nurse leaders are likely to be faced with moral dilemmas. Meeting the ever-changing expectations and priorities of stakeholders is a hard task, but by being an authentic leader, nurses can place the patient first.

8. Coping effectively with change

Being visionary and proactive when faced with a healthcare system defined by rapid change and chaos is perhaps the most important of all the qualities listed. Today’s healthcare organizations face continual change in the form of organizational restructuring, quality improvement and employee retention7. Such change brings with it feelings of pride and stress in equal measures. Nurse leaders need to embrace change, adapt to it and in doing so re-energize and empower the workforce8.

Get the Skills Needed to Be an Effective Leader

As demonstrated in the list above, effective leadership in nursing calls for a diverse skill set that goes beyond technical or medical expertise. Expert faculty in the online Master of Science in Nursing with a Clinical Nurse Leader® track at Queens University of Charlotte offer a comprehensive curriculum and guidance to develop nurses into capable leaders who can unite critical stakeholders for optimal patient outcomes. Request more information to learn more about how this degree can improve your nursing practice, or call 866-313-2356.


Adapted from: Huston C. (2008) Preparing nurse leaders for 2020. Journal of Nursing Management 16, 905–911 [WWW document]. URL [accessed on 10 June 2014].

  1. Gutpa A., Govindarajan V. & Wang H. (2008) Cultivating a Global Mindset. [WWW document]. The Globalist URL http:// [accessed on 14 April 2008].
  2. Camillus J. (2008) Strategy as a wicked problem. Harvard Business Review 86 (5), 99–106.
  3. Saint-Amand A. (2008) Building an Expert Exchange. Networks in Decision-making. [WWW document]. URL http://en.oreilly. com/money2008/public/schedule/detail/2187 [accessed on 14 April 2008].
  4. Jessee W. (2006) What patient safety looks like. Six steps that mark an organization that really cares about medical errors. Modern Healthcare 36 (42), 18.
  5. Gratton L. & Erickson T.J. (2007) 8 ways to build collaborative teams. Harvard Business Review 11 (85), 100–109.
  6. Marquis B. & Huston C. (2009) Leadership Roles and Management Functions in Nursing: Theory and Application, 6th edn. Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA.
  7. Burritt J.E. (2005) Organizational turnaround. The role of the nurse executive. Journal of Nursing Administration 35 (11), 482–489.

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