4 Essential Leadership Skills For Your Nursing Career

Effective leadership skills empower nurses to contribute across all levels of a healthcare organization. Beyond the theories and techniques learned in nursing school, acquiring four essential leadership abilities can equally contribute to the success of your career. These are communication, mentoring, decision-making and change-management skills.

1. Communication Skills

The ability to communicate effectively is the hallmark of successful leaders and a fundamental skill to master. This is particularly true in nursing, where managerial talent is often forged under high pressure. Good communication includes listening, as well as giving and receiving feedback.


To manage people well, you need a solid understanding of their talents and developmental needs. You can gain insight into all of these by first hearing the messages behind their words, then accurately interpreting those signals. For instance, complaints about procedures might actually be a call for additional training. Whereas, grumbling about policies could express the desire for more independence.

Feedback Looping

Regular constructive feedback nurtures professional growth. It also establishes expectations outside the formal structure of performance reviews. Setting clear expectations and making corrections are valuable in building trust among your team members.

Alternatively, accepting feedback diplomatically ensures people that they can look to you for direction, even under difficult and negative circumstances. Diana S. Contino, RN, MBA, CEN, CCRN, states that the “freedom to question is based on the premise that humans are fallible and that it takes teamwork and systems to reduce errors.”

2. Mentoring Skills

Mentoring bridges the gap between knowledge and experience. While outlining the characteristics of effective nursing leadership, UK-based hospital director Andrew Frankel suggests that good mentorship ultimately contributes to optimizing patient outcomes by leading to “increased patient satisfaction, more effective nurse-patient relationships and quicker recovery times.” In other words, leadership modeling affects both nurses and patients in positive ways.

3. Decision-Making Skills

Just as patients are triaged, work must also be ranked properly. Mastering prioritization is central to good decision making. It can empower you to optimize your patient outcomes and also contribute to your organization’s bottom line.

In a pilot program launched by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the group announced that nurse-developed patient initiatives resulted in more than $2 million in bottom-line savings across seven hospitals.

Additionally, their efforts led to substantial patient outcome improvements, such as “an 80 percent reduction in heel ulcers at one hospital and significant reductions in communication errors, medical errors and injury-causing falls at another.” Ultimately, nurses can be “clinician leaders and change agents whose initiatives measurably improve patient outcomes with bottom-line impact to the hospital.” Decisiveness is key to effecting positive change.

4. Change-Management Skills

Being able to influence and accommodate change in a complex environment is a hard-won skill earned by networking with other leaders and seeking a mentor. Diana Contino asserts that nurses “must respond to new regulations, changing economic conditions, consolidations, and/or hospital closures” and that “because of the rapidly changing external environment, it is increasingly important to understand how leaders anticipate and implement change.” By learning to lead others even in the face of uncertainty, you can help break through resistance, spread new ideas and even grow new leaders.

While your nursing education may not have included formal leadership training in these four essential skills, you can achieve mastery by focusing your professional development on them throughout your career.

Claire Furman is a nurse practitioner and guest author at Best-Nursing-Schools.net, a site with guides to top-rated online nursing degree programs.

1 Comment

  1. Marg Online on April 6, 2016 at 12:57 am

    Listening is one of the important leadership skills one should possess as a leader as it indicates the speaker that you are respecting him/her of what they are telling. Also, it ensures you to learn something new about the person or understand them so that you can provide better or positive feedbacks to them.

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