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Becoming an Effective Nurse Leader

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Effective nursing leadership is essential to optimizing the delivery of healthcare services in medical institutions of all sizes.


Nurse leaders can study interdisciplinary leadership techniques and use them in practice to ensure that their teams are motivated to provide the highest quality of care for their patients.


Before you begin developing nurse leadership skills, you must learn the skills, traits, and competencies that lead to effective nurse leadership. That’s not always easy to do when you’re working a full-time job.


But there are programs like Maryville University’s online BSN to DNP that offer a flexible way for you to prepare for nurse leadership roles while maintaining your current work schedule.

What are some important traits for effective nursing leadership?

There are a variety of character traits that can help nurses like you rise to leadership positions and guide staff members toward organizational goals.


These traits are crucial in building trust with employees, making informed decisions that enhancing the quality of patient care — and becoming an effective nurse leader. You can develop these leadership qualities naturally and continue to practice and refine them over time.


  • A passion for and commitment to clinical excellence
  • The capacity to build authentic relationships and earn trust with staff
  • The confidence to inspire and drive change in the nursing practice
  • An open-mindedness to ideas and innovations that can improve patient outcomes
  • The willingness to embrace empirical data as a measure of quality performance
  • An interest in the professional development and workplace satisfaction of the staff
  • An open, honest communication style that respects conflicting opinions
  • The determination to exhibit nursing best practices at all times and lead by example

What are some key skills for effective nursing leadership?

Nursing units often comprise nurses with different levels of education, experience, and specialized knowledge. To unite these interdisciplinary professionals under one organizational vision, the most effective nurse managers use the following skills.

Change Management

The healthcare industry is always evolving. Therefore, nurse management leaders must be capable of guiding their teams as they adapt to new challenges in their work environment.


This requires patience and transparency, as each individual has a different process for coping with changes in practice. Nurse team leaders should plan for changes in an open and transparent way, as this allows the staff to participate and communicate their concerns.


If you’re seeking a nursing leadership role, it’s critical for you to take note of which staff members might resist a specific change and seek ways to show them their stake in successful implementation. As facilities introduce changes, you should also aim to identify which of your team members are likely to be early adopters of the changes, because those individuals will help their colleagues understand the importance of the changes being made.


These efforts can minimize the risk of a decrease in employee performance due to a negative emotional response to organizational changes.

A Service-Oriented Outlook on Healthcare

In busy times, the amount of work that nurse leaders must coordinate can be overwhelming. Regardless of the amount of pressure they’re under, good leaders should prioritize achieving a high degree of patient satisfaction.


However, from a leadership perspective, a personalized focus on patient satisfaction is not enough. Effective nurse leadership also includes devotion to developing a service-oriented culture that all of the employees embody.


Nurse leaders can achieve this through planned actions, such as training nurses and other front-line staffers on how to use scripts to guide interactions with the public. Implementing such systems helps create a positive environment that is friendly, welcoming, and comfortable for patients and their family members — even in stressful or frustrating times.

Creating Learning Opportunities for Employees

When an employee isn’t sure how to complete a difficult task, good nurse team leaders have three main options: find someone else who can perform the task, do the task themselves, or teach the person in front of them how to do the task.


If you want to be an effective nurse leader, you should make the extra effort to choose the third option as often as possible. Of course, patient safety takes priority over employee education, so leaders should leave time-sensitive or potentially dangerous work to the most competent professionals.


Committed leaders assess the current timeline and take action to ensure that the employee knows what to do the next time the situation arises.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is unavoidable in any large-scale collaborative environment, including healthcare institutions. Conflicts could occur among a group of nurses, between a physician and a nurse, or between other staff members in the facility.


A National Institutes of Health (NIH) article notes, “Research demonstrates that training in conflict resolution skills can result in improved teamwork, productivity, and patient and employee satisfaction.” The article explains that while there are several possible responses to conflict, collaboration and compromise often result in positive outcomes.


Understanding how to reach this point of compromise gives effective nurse leaders the tools they need to defuse disagreements between team members before they significantly impact employee performance.


The first part of conflict resolution is determining whether the conflict is worth intervening in. If addressing a minor conflict personally will have no significant benefit to the organization, leaving it to the involved parties may be preferable.


But if the conflict has the potential to cause harm to the organization, nurse leaders must work toward understanding the nature of the conflict. If the organization is at risk, proactive nurse leaders must take on the role of an arbitrator, whose goal is to make sure the lines of communication stay open long enough to find a solution.


After identifying what each person’s goals and motivations are in the disagreement, an effective leader will leverage that information to help their employees find common ground.

Dedication to Excellence

The most effective nursing leaders are professionals who take charge of setting goals for their organizations’ nursing departments. A commitment to excellence requires them to focus on ensuring that their teams are providing exceptional care to patients.


As professional nurse leaders strive for excellence with their staff, American Nurse Today recommends setting three goals and pledging to meet them every 90 days. By creating three short-term priorities, effective lead nurses give their teams something achievable that will improve both their performance and patient care.


The best nursing team leaders gather input from their staff to help determine what goals they set. By collecting and using feedback, they are able to ensure that their organizations make informed decisions based on the interests of the stakeholders.

See how effective nursing leadership education can help you.

As the healthcare industry evolves, there is a high demand for professionals with effective nursing leadership skills. Many medical organizations require candidates for advanced nurse leadership positions to hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice.


If you’re brave enough to take your next step toward becoming a nursing leader, we’re here to help. Learn about higher education opportunities with Maryville University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice program.


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