Top 10 Leadership Skills for Nurses

Leadership Skills for Nurses

With the ever-changing healthcare environment, today more than ever leadership skills for nurses are important. In order for nursing teams to enjoy both a healthy workplace and positive patient outcomes- it is imperative that nurses are taught leadership strategies.

One of the three key components of The Art of Nursing program is “leadership and empowerment”. During the first day of content, nurses learn how to show up as effective leaders at work. This added confidence empowers nurses to approach healthcare with a global vision.

While The Art of Nursing program is still months away, with live content starting annually during Nurse’s Week, we don’t want you to wait. So, today’s post will focus on the top 10 leadership skills for nurses. This way you can get started right away!

Top Ten List

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Nurses communicate all day (or night) long. Phones, charts, emails, texts… the list goes on and on. However, there are certain items that come into play that are specific to leadership skills. An effective communicator not only talks, but listens. A strong leader asks pertinent questions and then consciously circles back with timely feedback. Another communication leadership skill for nurses is being able to quickly establish rapport. Many times we are challenged with being able to get through to the patient or family. A nurse who is able to initiate this relationship and speak to the patient/family in language they can understand is one who will enjoy a successful nursing career!


Most nurses will agree that nursing can be difficult. The shift work is hard and hours long. Shifting healthcare systems can create budgetary restrictions or procedures that seem to ask us to do more with less. Maybe one of the most important leadership skills for nurses is staying positive. Even when it seems impossible to find anything good to focus on- a strong leader will do so. Why is this? Most likely, this nurse has come to realize that what he or she focuses on grows in size. So, if the nurse is constantly complaining about what is not working- guess what? This becomes more of the reality. However, if the nurse is able to find one thing… just ONE thing good about the work day… and focus on that?? Well, then more and more of these positive experiences start to show up!


We live in the age of information. Devices are everywhere- even popping up in healthcare organizations as ways to work quickly and more efficiently. Younger generations search social media and networking forums for job opportunities. In order for the nurse leader to avoid becoming obsolete he or she must think and act with an air of innovation. Leverage the power of social media. Read nursing blogs and forums. Search for solutions that are outside-the-box. Get creative and tap into your teams’ assets.


Leadership skills for nurses do not just come in the form of telling or doing. In order to be seen as a great leader, a nurse needs to pay attention to what their coworkers are celebrating. And taking appreciation to another level- this could mean both inside and outside of work. Recognize your staff for a job well done. Call out a nurse who has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Thank people for coming in early, late, or for on call shifts. And get to know nurses as people. They also have lives outside of the workplace. Show them that you care for any and all celebrations in life!


Successful leaders are people who can bounce back. Even in the darkest of situations, the strong leader reviews the experience reflecting on what can be learned from a challenge. Being flexible, adaptive, and able to go with the flow of change are strengths that sound leaders embody. Growth happens when nursing leadership learns from past experiences.


Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk. Nurses are doers. We want action! And often, we want it now!! Another one of the ten leadership skills for nurses that proves to be necessary in all nursing groups is implementation. It is one thing to discuss the policy change and envision how it may go. It is another totally different (and gratifying) experience when the leader successfully implements that change… and it goes smoothly well!


Nurses are very smart people. Because we are trained to think critically, many nurses can sense when they are not getting the whole picture. A strong leader will be honest, showing up to the workplace with integrity. Successful leadership comes when trust is established and subsequently enjoyed. As much as possible, provide the reasons “why” behind the “what” that you are communicating with the nursing staff. Once a nurse feels part of the process, he or she is much more likely to champion the efforts.


For goodness sake, don’t do it all yourself! If you take anything away from this list of leadership skills for nurses, leave with the fact that delegation is necessary for sustainable success. There are definitely not enough hours in the day for you to do everything on your own. And a sound leader role models delegation behaviors for his or her nursing staff. Utilize the entire team and share the workload across professionals. It will save you time (and headache) in the long run!


Yes, it wouldn’t be an Art of Nursing blog post without the self-care reminder for everyone reading. If you are not well or showing up to work feeling your best, then what good of a leader are you? Nurses give. All day long to everyone around. If you are running on empty- you have nothing left to give other people. Plain and simple. Fill your own cup first so that you can continue to selflessly give to all of those who need you. Great leaders take care of themselves first- so that they can take care of the teams they lead!


Nurses are often motivated by the big picture vision for change. We show up day in and day out for the same cause- the patient. We are hopeful people who just want to experience good in all that we do. By teaching others, we hope that they heal. By advocating for patients, we expect them to succeed. Nursing leadership can be that inspiration. One of the best leadership skills for nurses is that positive encouragement that keeps us on, wanting to do better. Each day we as nurses show up to work to make a difference. Let’s be the group that inspires each other to be our best every shift!

Let’s hear from you! What would you add to this list of leadership skills for nurses? Leave a comment and thank you for reading.

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RNAbout the Author: Keynote speaker and online program host, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the bestselling author of ‘Nursing from Within’, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver. Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and playful pit bull.