Online RN to MSN
Clinical Systems Leadership

6 ways nurses can become better leaders

Leadership is among the most important qualities nursing students can hone and possess. Leaders in nursing are responsible for safe, quality care of each individual receiving care whether it be in high acuity, ambulatory, chronic care, or home care settings. Strong nurse leaders have competencies in knowledge of the health care environment, the business of health care, communication and relationship management, leadership skills, and professionalism. Nurse leaders also need strong organizational, critical thinking, and technical skills to facilitate systems thinking and decision-making. Soft skills like motivation, communication, ethical decision-making and collaboration play just as large of a role in forming an effective leader.


In fact, many are drawn to nursing because the field naturally attracts leaders. Nurses need to be strong-willed personalities who can thrive under pressure, press through adverse conditions, and remain resolute and responsible to patients and team members. Yet there is a key distinction to be made between true leadership and just managing the situation. Leadership requires vision, flexibility and a commitment to constant evaluation and improvement that goes beyond the management of tasks and duties.

There are many benefits to becoming a nursing leader,, including the opportunity to shape and influence policy, as well as to network with other leaders in health care to develop new methods of treatment. Leaders, though they may be born, are not made overnight. Here are six ways for nurses to become better leaders in their settings:

Understand not every leader is in a leadership position

While nursing leaders are often found in higher level positions (even the executive suite), it’s important for those in all positions to know they have just as much opportunity to contribute as a leader in their own environment. Some nurses may feel that because their role does not expressly call for outward signs of leadership, they’d be better off containing or limiting their own inclinations. However, leaders are needed at every single level of the nursing profession. If a nurse sees a need and is comfortable stepping into the position of leader, even if only for that moment, they shouldn’t hesitate.

You don’t have to be in a formal leadership position to ask questions and pursue improvements. While they may differ in scale, the nurse who finds a way to more effectively schedule and process patients before having an operation, and then is able to present that to peers and managers and generate buy-in from them, is just as much a leader. The point is, nurses should never feel constrained by the bounds of their finite roles in acting as a leader.

Practice self-awareness and introspection

Although leadership is very much about others (directing team members or guiding patients), no one can really be a leader without looking inward. Primarily, introspection trains nurses to ask questions—of themselves, but also of their settings, patients, teams and roles that can benefit from process evaluation and improvement. It also instills the quality of accountability. When leaders can acknowledge mistakes, whether their own or not, it enhances their image and capacity as a leader.

Nurses can do this by taking time each day and reflecting on nursing practice as it unfolded during the shift. Critical reflection on your nursing practice assists in processing situations, finding solutions to workplace challenges, and has the potential to positively impact the quality of the care you deliver and the care delivered by the team with whom you work.

Be knowledgeable of the trends affecting nurses and nursing

A good leader can only be as effective as their knowledge of current trends in health care and nursing practice.

For instance, nursing leaders have to be on top of reform and policy emanating from Washington, D.C., particularly as the status of the Affordable Care Act becomes more and more uncertain. Other trends nurses should be familiar with include:

• The evolving consumer-based health-care model
• The role of mobile and health care technologies which enhance health and wellbeing
• Developments and innovation in health care delivery models
• Advances in integrative health
• The current nursing shortage and strategies for addressing the issue
• New consumer-based technologies and devices that are impacting population health.

Keeping up with local health care news and the potential impact of state, regional, and national health care is also important. Staying informed on the issues affecting nurses in your hospital, assisted living community or other care environment is just as important to providing good leadership.

Be familiar with the different styles of leadership

Not every leader is the same. Different settings call for different strategies, and different personnel call for different approaches. To that end, a knowledgeable nursing leader has at their disposal an arsenal of different leadership styles they may need to use. These range from styles that are more inclusive and fostering, to those that necessitate an authoritative approach to those focused solely on rewarding good work.

Some styles to learn more about include:
Transformational leadership: Leaders of this school use overarching values and mission to inspire teams.
Transactional leadership: This leadership structure is essentially one of merits and demerits. Good behavior and outcomes are met with reward or praise, and bad ones may lead to punitive measures.
Laissez-faire leadership: Laissez-faire leaders are those who take the hands-off approach and observe, intervening only when necessary, but otherwise enabling individuals with the tools to their own responsibilities.
Authoritarian leadership: Often employed in crisis management or overwhelmed ERs, authoritarian leadership sets down rigid and defined conditions, parameters and expectations that are to be followed without exception.
Democratic leadership: The opposite of the above, democratic leaders solicit input from team members and build consensus to promote new strategies or process improvements.

Take a people-focused approach

Nursing leadership is based in large part on forging interpersonal relationships that contribute to desired patient outcomes. First and foremost, in nearly every setting, the patient comes first. Their safety and their quality of care should be the primary directives for nursing staff. Bedside manner plays a big role in deciding leaders, as those able to engage with patients and their families often stand out as being suitable for responsibility. Nurses are on the front lines of providing these services and taking a people-oriented approach. Focusing on the tasks that need completing helps leaders hone their craft.

Communicate with clarity and force

Above all, a good leader must communicate. This holds particular weight on the hospital floor and other care settings where organization, direction and instruction-delivery mean so much to ensuring the safety and quality care of patients. Not only must nurses impart total clarity and authority when they communicate, but they have to bring those traits to communication on every level: within the department, outside the department, within an interdisciplinary team, with patients, with their families, with other stakeholders and with superiors.

Network strategically

Having connections, as well as a recognizable profile and persona, is important to leadership. Nurses with high ambitions should learn to network strategically, building relationships in their specialty, their provider system and in the community. Fostering these bonds is a primary responsibility of a good leader, as people taking their cue need to know leaders are accessible, receptive and always open to working together.

American Nursing Today recommended that nurses incorporate members of different departments on their rounds in a revolving fashion. That way, open communication and information sharing can occur on a scheduled basis, which itself leads to closer relations and coordination across the spectrum of care.


Leveraging network connections can result in better care coordination, process improvement and community outreach.

Learn more about the University of Arizona

Being a leader means keeping constant tabs on the state of nursing and always having an eye on how best to improve care delivery and processes that lead to good outcomes. The nursing profession needs leaders, but it takes years of skill-building and experience to effectively deploy in leadership positions.

Those who seek continued education in order to better shape their leadership abilities and qualities can contact the University of Arizona to learn more about our online RN to MSN Clinical Systems Leadership program that puts students on a streamlined track to becoming a Master’s-prepared nursing leader. Visit our site today to learn more about the curriculum and vision of the program, as well as how to apply.

Recommended reading:

How Different Management Styles Can Affect Nurse Retention

5 Ways Nurses Can Reduce Patient Anxiety

Building a Career as a Nurse Administrator: What to Expect


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