nursing leadership essential skills

Nursing Leadership: 19 Essential Skills to Master

Nursing leadership plays a critical role in the healthcare industry. It involves guiding and motivating a team of nursing professionals to provide the best possible care to patients while ensuring effective communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. This article discusses the essential skills nursing leaders should master and how they can do so effectively.

19 essential skills every nursing leader should master

There are a diverse range of nursing roles in the healthcare industry, all with their own particular skill sets and responsibilities. Therefore, it is important that, when considering the next step in your nursing career such as RN vs NP, you know what will be expected of you in any role. If you are deciding to move into a leadership role for example, an online program from an institution like Carson-Newman University, will ensure you have the necessary skills and knowledge.

So, whether you’re a seasoned nursing leader looking to refine your skills or a newbie looking to develop a solid foundation, these 19 skills can help you succeed in your role and drive meaningful change in healthcare.

1. Communication skills

Every leader needs to be able to connect with their team members to create a comfortable environment. Nursing leaders must convey their expectations, policies, and goals to their team, and they must excel in various aspects of communication, including active listening, persuasive speaking, and nonverbal cues, to achieve this.

Effective communication ensures everybody can collaborate, resolve conflict, and work towards the same goal while understanding and reflecting on themselves. Convey your thoughts and complex information clearly, actively listen and address all concerns, and foster open dialogue. The latter works well when you listen to each team member and create an environment where they can express their thoughts.

You can improve your communication skills by practicing empathy, understanding and sharing your team members’ feelings, and correcting with love. Communication refines your team members’ verbal and nonverbal communication techniques, syncing you as a team. You can encourage communication by holding frequent meetings, having lunch breaks, and providing constructive feedback that helps them grow.

2. Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence helps nurse leaders empathize with their team members and patients, manage stress, and create a positive work atmosphere. It involves understanding and managing your emotions and recognizing and acknowledging others’ emotions. Nurse leaders must cultivate emotional intelligence by observing, motivating, and relating with themselves and others around them, including nurses and patients.

Nursing leaders with high emotional intelligence can empathize with their team members, foster positive relationships, and effectively navigate stressful situations. However, developing this skill requires self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-reflection. Practice mindfulness and seek training in emotional intelligence. Some ways to show emotional intelligence are recognizing and addressing your team’s burnout, managing conflict, and promoting a supportive work environment.

3. Critical thinking

Critical thinking enables nursing leaders to analyze complex situations and solve problems efficiently. This skill is vital in healthcare, where patient outcomes often depend on quick, evidence-based decision-making. A nurse leader’s critical thinking ability comes in handy when making informed decisions, solving complex problems, and providing sound clinical judgment. Nurses can enhance this skill by engaging in reflective practice, discussing case studies, and participating in peer review processes.

Engage in continuous education, seek mentorship from experienced seniors, and participate in simulations to test your thinking and decision-making skills during emergencies. The latter is crucial since your team members may await your orders during those emergencies. Examples of critical thinking are identifying potential risks faster than others, allocating resources effectively, and establishing organized teamwork.

4. Time management

Nursing leaders must balance multiple responsibilities and prioritize tasks effortlessly. Time management skills help ensure patient care and administrative duties are performed efficiently. It also allows them to delegate obligations and maintain a balanced workload for their team.

Nurses can refine their time management skills by setting SMART goals, utilizing productivity tools, and regularly reviewing their progress. Set a realistic and flexible timetable for yourself, allocate time for patient rounds, manage your team’s schedule, and ensure administrative tasks are completed on time.

5. Decision-making

Nursing leaders make crucial decisions impacting patient care, staff well-being, and overall operations. They must be skilled in evaluating alternatives, considering potential consequences, and selecting the best action. Nursing leaders can improve their decision-making skills through scenario-based exercises, consulting with peers, and reflecting on past experiences.

They can also refine and develop this skill by seeking opportunities for increased responsibility, learning from experienced leaders, and analyzing the outcomes of past decisions. Some examples of tracking your decision-making skills include choosing appropriate staffing levels, implementing new policies that positively impact your team members and patients, and addressing patient complaints effectively.

6. Conflict resolution

Conflict is inevitable in healthcare settings, and nursing leaders must be adept at resolving disputes among team members to maintain a positive work environment. Besides this, patients and families might complain about one of your team members, and how you handle these conflicts is essential. Identify the root cause, employ appropriate resolution strategies like compromising and collaboration, and encourage open communication.

Nurses can undergo training, engage in role-playing exercises, and seek mentorship from experienced leaders, to strengthen their conflict-resolution skills. They can also improve their skills by listening actively and mediating disagreements between team members.

7. Delegation

Effective delegation ensures that tasks are completed efficiently and that the team members are not overwhelmed by their workload. It empowers nurse leaders to optimize their team’s potential, distribute workload equitably, and facilitate professional development.

Correct work delegation helps assess your team member’s strengths and weaknesses, clearly establish your expectations, and monitor their progress regularly. Some ways to improve this skill include:

• Understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses: Delegation is most effective when you assign tasks to team members based on their strengths and weaknesses. Get to know your team members, their skill sets, and limits to delegate tasks accordingly.

• Provide resources: Provide the necessary resources and support your team members in completing their tasks. Give them access to equipment, establish training classes, and encourage them to seek guidance from other team members.

• Set realistic deadlines: Consider your team members’ workload and other responsibilities before setting deadlines for assigned tasks. Setting unrealistic deadlines is equivalent to setting them up to fail. Realistic deadlines help them focus more on each task and do a better job at it.

• Trust your team members: Trust is essential in delegating tasks. Trust that your team members can complete their assigned tasks and give them the autonomy to do so. However, you must offer guidance on complex tasks without towering or intimidating them.

• Follow up and provide feedback: After delegating tasks, follow up with your team members to ensure they are on track and give constructive feedback on their performance. Correct their mistakes and applaud their accuracy to help them learn and grow in their roles.

8. Team building

A collaborative team is essential for providing high-quality patient care. Why? A divided nursing team can’t carry out uniform tasks, affecting the quality of their caregiving. Nursing leaders must be skilled at encouraging teamwork and promoting a positive work environment. They can create a cohesive team by promoting trust, collaboration, and professional growth.

Nursing leaders can achieve this by participating in team-building exercises, encouraging open communication among team members, and recognizing individual strengths. They can also engage their team members in the decision-making process and promote a supportive culture among team members.

9. Adaptability

The healthcare industry is constantly changing, and nursing leaders must be able to adapt to new technologies, policies, and practices. They must stay informed about industry trends, embrace the changes, and open themselves to new ideas to sharpen their skills and keep them up-to-date. Other ways to improve their adaptability skill include:

• Be open to feedback: Staying receptive to feedback helps nursing leaders learn from experiences and make necessary adjustments to settle into the changes. Encourage feedback from your team members, peers, and superiors.

• Embrace a growth mindset: Seeing challenges as opportunities for growth can help you approach new situations with a positive attitude and an intent to learn. Ultimately, a growth mindset makes development more straightforward.

• Develop a flexible leadership style: It’s vital to continuously adjust your leadership style to fit the situation at hand and sync with the needs of your team. For instance, you may need to be more hands-on during emergencies requiring expertise or take a more collaborative approach, engaging everyone when working on long-term projects.

• Practice self-care: Take care of yourself. Changing your views and leadership styles isn’t always easy when these changes are abrupt. Care for your mental, physical, and emotional health to help you stay focused, motivated, and adaptable during stressful or challenging times.

• Learn from failures: Sometimes, your decisions might not work out as expected. However, failure can be a valuable learning experience, helping you identify areas for improvement and adapt to new situations more effectively.

10. Cultural competence

Nursing leaders must be sensitive to the diverse cultural backgrounds of patients and staff members. Cultural competence promotes understanding and respect, which leads to better patient outcomes and improved team dynamics. The nursing profession has become more diverse, and cultural competence is vital for providing patient-centered care and fostering an inclusive work environment where everyone belongs.

Nurse leaders can develop this skill by familiarizing themselves with different cultures, attending diversity training, and practicing self-reflection. They can also establish culturally-sensitive care plans, address language barriers, and facilitate cultural awareness training for staff.

11. Coaching and mentoring

Nursing leaders play a crucial role in developing the next generation of nurses. Coaching helps them pass their values and experiences down to the newbies, helping them uphold the work value of nurses in the healthcare sector. Effective mentoring can also lead to improved staff performance, increased job satisfaction, and better patient care.

Nursing leaders can enhance their coaching and mentoring skills by participating in mentorship programs, establishing goals to manage what they teach the younger nurses, and providing constructive feedback to help them grow.

12. Advocacy

True leaders are the ones who stick up for their team members. Nursing leaders must advocate for their patients and staff, ensuring their needs and voices are heard. Here are some effective ways to support your team members:

• Listen to them: Listen to your team members’ concerns, needs, and ideas. Take their input seriously and show empathy for their experiences.

• Understand policies and procedures: Familiarize yourself with the policies and procedures of your organization, and use them to support your team members’ needs and concerns. You can also use these policies to guide them and avoid unnecessary mistakes.

• Build relationships with stakeholders: Develop strong relationships with stakeholders, such as other healthcare professionals and administrators. These relationships can make it easier to advocate for your team members more effectively.

Nursing leaders should also speak up for patient safety, address workplace concerns, and participate in policy-making discussions.

13. Visionary Leadership

Visionary nursing leaders can inspire their teams and drive positive organizational change. They possess a clear vision of the future and can motivate others to work towards common goals.

Nurses can develop visionary leadership skills by cultivating strategic thinking, embracing innovation, and engaging in continuous learning. Some examples of growing this skill are creating long-term plans for patient care, implementing innovative solutions, and inspiring team members to achieve excellence.

14. Financial management

Nursing leaders are often responsible for managing budgets and ensuring the efficient use of resources. Financial management skills help them make informed decisions and maintain the financial stability of their organizations. Familiarize yourself with the basics of healthcare finance, including budgeting, revenue, expenses, and financial statements. Understand your organization’s financial goals and how they relate to your team’s goals, helping you align with the organization’s financial objectives.

Nursing leaders must also keep track of their spending and ensure it aligns with the budget. They can achieve this by finding opportunities to reduce costs, like negotiating better prices for supplies, without sacrificing the quality of care. It’s also crucial to involve your team members in financial management by educating and engaging them in economic decision-making.

15. Ethical leadership

Nursing leaders must uphold the highest ethical standards and act as role models for their teams. Ethical leadership promotes trust, accountability, and integrity within the workplace. Strengthen this skill by engaging in moral training, seeking mentorship, and practicing self-reflection. You can achieve this by ensuring patient privacy in your organization, addressing ethical dilemmas effectively, and promoting a culture of accountability among your team members.

16. Resilience

The nursing profession can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Resilience is crucial for nursing leaders as it helps them cope with their work challenges, maintain their well-being, and set a positive example for their team. As the nursing leader, you might need to offer regular physical and emotional support to your team members, even when you’re also unnerved.

Resilience, backed with enough rest, helps nurses recover from fatigue and burnout quickly, helping them cope with work challenges more easily. It also helps them develop mental toughness, remain focused, and provide high-quality care to patients.

17. Networking

Nursing leaders must establish and maintain professional relationships with colleagues, administrators, and other healthcare professionals. It is because it helps improve professional associations, which has many benefits. Effective networking leads to new opportunities, collaborations, and resource sharing, which is essential for the success of any leader and their organization.

How can you develop these skills? First, by attending conferences, participating in professional organizations and their meetings, and engaging in online networking and professional platforms. You can contribute to industry discussions by writing thought leadership posts and blogs to improve your value in the industry.

All these help nursing leaders collaborate with colleagues and other departments and share best working practices for collective success.

18. Technology literacy

Technology is now at the core of modern healthcare, and nursing leaders must be proficient in using various tools and systems to improve patient care and streamline their processes. There are several innovations in the industry, but the strength of any leader is learning how they work, hiring experts to train their team where necessary, and using technology to scale their work.

Nursing leaders can enhance their technology literacy by participating in training programs, staying informed about industry innovations, and embracing new technologies. Leaders can start by implementing electronic health record systems if it doesn’t exist yet and utilizing telemedicine platforms and digital communication tools to improve healthcare services.

19. Change management

Change management is relative to adaptability, which every nurse must have. It is how nursing leaders effectively manage change within their organizations. For instance, leaders must ensure that transitions from one technology to another are as smooth as possible. They must also prepare the team for what is to come so they will adapt to the new processes and protocols as they should.

Nursing leaders must be sensitive to the surrounding changes to develop this skill. They can also study change management theories, engage in management training, and learn from experienced leaders.

Examples of where leaders can need this skill are:

  • To implement new care models
  • To lead organizational restructuring
  • To guide staff through major technological upgrades.


Nursing leadership is essential for fostering a high-quality patient care environment and ensuring the nursing staff’s well-being and professional growth. Nursing leaders that master these skills can excel in their roles, drive positive change within their organizations, and contribute to the overall success of the healthcare industry.

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