Nursing Leadership Skills: 9 Key Qualities for Success

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Nursing leadership skills are critical to a healthcare team’s success. As a nurse leader, you must be able to communicate effectively, identify the team’s needs, delegate tasks, and demonstrate quality patient care. Taking the time to develop leadership skills throughout your education and career can prepare you for future advancement.

nurse checks patient's blood pressure

High-quality patient care hinges on teamwork and strong leadership. Nursing teams need leaders who can chart the course and motivate team members. Nursing leadership skills are essential to healthcare operations and promoting positive patient outcomes.

Developing nursing leadership skills takes time, but students can get a head start through the University of Mount Saint Vincent’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. The Mount has a long history of fostering the characteristics of a nurse leader in their students, among the many other nursing skills students need to become licensed registered nurses after graduation.

Below are nine essential leadership skills students and nurses should nurture so they can excel in their careers.

nurse studying

Considering a nursing career? Nursing school is the first step in acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to be a nurse. Read more to learn how to get into nursing school.

Understanding Leadership in Nursing

Strong nursing leadership creates an environment where nurses can prioritize patient care, comfort, and safety. As nurses move through the ranks and take on leadership positions, they must display the attributes of a nurse leader to promote collaboration and critical thinking while motivating their teams to remain committed to their patients.

Nurse leaders are invested in their team’s professional development and encourage team members to expand their knowledge and skills to continue providing effective patient care. Strong leadership in nursing leads to improved retention and satisfaction, cultivating a passionate and knowledgeable nursing team ready to meet the challenges in healthcare.

9 Essential Nursing Leadership Skills & Characteristics

Becoming a capable nurse leader can be challenging; however, with time and determination, nurses can acquire nursing leadership skills and characteristics. Many skills are needed to become a respected leader in nursing, but by focusing on these nine skills, nurses can succeed in their leadership roles.

1. Strong Communication

Leaders are effective communicators. Nurse leaders must clearly communicate treatment plans and medical information to healthcare staff, patients, and families. They must also know when to adjust their communication approach to the circumstances. For example, communicating with patients’ families requires more tact and compassion than relaying condition changes to physicians.

Strong communication can also make or break a team’s efficiency. Nurse leaders must communicate team goals and strategies, delegate tasks, and discuss expectations with other nurses and healthcare staff.

2. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is essential to nursing, and it also makes an effective leader. Nursing is a fast-paced profession that requires you to think quickly on your feet, making important decisions that can significantly affect patient outcomes. Critical thinking also applies to how teams operate. Nurse leaders must recognize weak points and implement solutions to operations during policy changes and medical crises.

3 nursing students working in lab setting

3. Empathy

Empathy is among the most important leadership qualities in nursing. While empathy in nursing is often discussed in reference to nurse-patient relationships, effective leaders are empathetic to the struggles and concerns of their team, as well.

Whether mentoring new nurses or leading a team of veteran nurses, a leader cannot ignore feelings of overwhelm and burnout in their team. Nurse leaders can lead their teams with empathy by delegating tasks, picking up responsibilities if bandwidth allows, and offering an empathetic ear.

4. Mentorship

Mentorship is critical to the future of nursing. While becoming a nurse requires rigorous education and training, so much of the job is learned through practice. Mentorship is among some of the most helpful nursing leadership skills because it helps build the skills and confidence of the next generation of nurses.

Nurse leaders should share their experiences with new nurses, whether as part of a formal nurse-mentor program or in an unofficial role. Taking the time to share knowledge and build new nurses’ confidence in their practice is integral to fostering an effective healthcare team that promotes positive patient outcomes.

5. Collaboration

Every team, regardless of industry, must collaborate to meet its goals. In nursing, collaboration with other healthcare team members is needed to provide patient-focused care. Nurse leaders must understand the value of collaboration and demonstrate its importance by relaying information and working alongside others as required.

9 nursing students smiling over a practice manikin

6. Delegation

All leaders must be comfortable with task delegation. Nursing is a demanding profession, and a single person cannot cover all the responsibilities, which is why delegating tasks is crucial to positive patient outcomes and the efficiency of the healthcare facility. A nurse leader should know their team’s competency and bandwidth to ensure tasks are assigned to the appropriate person without overwhelming their team.

7. Advocacy

Advocacy in the workplace is essential to a patient’s and healthcare staff’s experience. Nurses should advocate for their patients, ensuring they receive care that aligns with their medical history and cultural, personal, and religious beliefs.

It’s important to note that nursing advocacy is codified in the nursing Code of Ethics. Nurses must promote a workplace safety culture by developing, implementing, and adhering to official policies.

These policies are in place to protect patients and staff and minimize errors and waste. Leaders must lead by example and encourage nursing staff to prioritize safe, dignified patient care and safety in the workplace.

8. Technical Skills

Technology is integral to patient care. Nurses must have technological literacy when handling equipment and accessing and managing electronic health records. Nurses in leadership positions must be well-versed in the healthcare facility’s technology within their scope of practice and prepared to learn to use new healthcare tech.

Nursing students practicing on a manikin

As a leader, others will look to you for guidance. When new equipment is introduced or new hires start, nurse leaders should utilize their technical skills to assist as needed.

9. Patient Care Skills

Patient care is foundational to nursing. Patients spend more time with nurses than with physicians; nurses spend, on average, 32.97% of their day shift in patients’ rooms, while doctors spend, on average, 14.73%. As a result, patients often rely on nurses’ compassion, patience, and knowledge to get through their hospital stay.

Strong patient care skills are essential to nursing, regardless of leadership positions. However, a leader must set an example by demonstrating care skills and prioritizing patient safety and dignity.

Nursing is a diverse field filled with opportunities. Read more to learn 10 alternative nursing careers outside of the hospital.

nursing student checking patient's heartbeat

Develop the Skills You Need to Be a Nurse Leader

It’s no secret that nursing is demanding and requires an extensive skill set, so starting on the right foot with a quality, comprehensive education can help you become a skilled nurse. Through Mount Saint Vincent’s ABSN, students acquire the skills and leadership qualities of a nurse they need for a successful nursing career.

If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you can start your education journey with Mount Saint Vincent. Through nursing coursework, simulation labs, and clinical rotations, you can earn your BS in Nursing in as few as 16 months, preparing you to confidently take the National Council Licensure Examination and become a licensed nurse.

Contact an admission counselor today to learn more about our ABSN program and how you can take the steps to become a registered nurse and effective leader.