Becoming a nurse leader is a natural step up in the career of many nurses. However, it is important to understand the role and determine whether it fits you well before stepping into it. It takes additional education and skills to become an effective nurse leader.
What is a nurse leader?
According to Nurse Focus, you must provide vision, perspective, accountability, and expertise as a nurse leader to support quality patient care and a safe, healthy work environment. You will be tasked with keeping the nursing staff reporting to you while ensuring proper patient care.
You will have an impact on care decisions and will be able to make or suggest changes that affect patients and nurses. This requires more responsibilities than your role as a nurse. You will be taking on significant paperwork changes, and in a well-staffed environment, you may not be directly responsible for patient care.
There are many roles you can take to become a nurse leader. Nurse Focus goes on to describe those roles and their relation to each other:
“Understanding the various leadership roles and the expectations for each level can help you better align your career goals with your professional advancement plan. Though there are many unique leadership roles not described here, the most commonly recognized positions are Nurse Manager, Director of Nursing (DON), Chief Nursing Officer (CNO), and Chief Nurse Executive (CNE).
A Nurse Manager is accountable for unit-based outcomes and reports to a DON. A DON generally oversees a group of Nurse Managers or an entire department and reports to the CNO or CNE. The CNO or CNE is responsible for professional nursing practice across the organization. The CNO’s or CNE’s influence extends to working with other executives and the community. With each progressively higher career transition, the leader’s scope of responsibility and span of influence increase.”
The best way to understand which nurse leader role is right for you is by looking at the skills you already possess and determining which ones you need to take on. In most cases, it is best to start from your skills instead of trying to learn more right away; others will develop as you begin your work as a nurse leader.
While many skills can help you excel as a leader, a few are considered essential. These include:
- Valuing others
- Team building
- Conflict resolution
The above list is not all-inclusive, but it is a good starting point to consider in your journey toward becoming a nurse leader. You may already use some or all of these nursing skills, but their leadership application differs. The main difference is that you will be the person people are looking to for answers and need to assist other nurses with their skills.
Valuing others is the top skill you need to become a nurse leader. This value extends past nursing staff to patients and families as well. Your goal is to support everyone’s needs and look for improvement opportunities.
Your job as a nurse leader is to represent your direct reports and patients and serve as the representative of the facility or company where you work. In valuing others, you must be willing to listen to them with empathy. This is important when you encounter anyone daily.
Communication is another top skill that you need to become a nurse leader. You must be able to express what you need to say calmly, professionally, and empathetically. These communication skills are vital to every aspect of the role.
Sometimes, you may deliver bad news to an employee, patient, or family, and you mustn’t let your emotions show. You might also be going to the board of the company to express the need for more staff to support your team and need to be persuasive in that conversation while remaining professional.
Team building is another important skill. Consider whether you are someone who helps bring people together on your shift. Do you have ideas about how things can run smoother? Have you implemented any of those ideas successfully?
Working with others can provide value when things are going well, but a nurse leader should see how to pull a team back from a stressful moment to work together again. In any position, the strain on a team that does not get along shines through, and you will need to be able to find and implement solutions to that tension.
Conflict resolution ties into the team-building aspect. To resolve conflicts, you must communicate well and value both parties’ feelings and values.
In your current or previous nursing roles, you may have come across conflict, whether it was with peers or patients. Were you able to find a resolution that satisfied everyone to some degree? If not, have you reflected on how you can improve and what actions you can take in the future?
It would be best if you worked on how to display these skills and build on them. Even if you are already skilled in this area, there is always room to expand; a good leader constantly grows and learns. This growth is an active step you must take.
These skills will also benefit you as a nurse, as leadership may recognize your potential for growth and new roles. It can also make things easier for you in your daily tasks to handle complex situations with deft and ease.
As a nurse, you have had leaders in your career. Think back to what made them a good leader – or not. There are many approaches to being a leader in any industry; some are more effective than others.
According to Relias, there are five leadership types in nursing:
Each style serves a purpose, and many leaders may have a blend of more than one style to fit different situations. While considering the leaders you’ve experienced, consider which leadership style you most identify with and whether it works well for a nurse leader.
A transformational leader expects people to take ownership and complete tasks while leading by example. This leadership style relies heavily on others being willing to step up without needing to be assigned tasks. This style would be a good fit for a team that shares workloads without much supervision.
In many other ways, a transformational leader may not fit certain nursing teams well. You must have a good team that excels under this type of leadership and can perform well under pressure.
A democratic leader uses the team to help make decisions. Like democracy, as the name implies, this leader works based on feedback from those they manage and uses that as motivation to make changes. This leadership is based on the team’s trust and fa faith leader and go od communication skills. An autocratic leadership style may have pain points in nursing, such as working in a fast-paced environment where decisions must be made rapidly. There may not always be time to consult the team, and the leader needs to be able to make some decisions alone. A hybrid approach of more than one style may be required in these environments.
A laissez-faire leader is an indirect leader. These leaders operate behind the scenes and may struggle to make decisions. They are not directly involved daily and usually only step in when there is a problem.
While this could be a style of leadership that works well in a large company for a position that is not on-site with each of their teams regularly, this is generally not the best approach in nursing. By only being involved when needed, the team will not be as strong and may not have trust in their nurse leader.
An autocratic nurse leader is the opposite of a laissez-faire leader. Authoritarian leaders are very involved with their teams and do not tolerate mistakes. This leader style is ready and willing to make decisions without their team and may not inform them of decisions unless necessary.
This style allows for rapid decision-making and may work best in fast-paced environments but goes directly against team building by withholding information. Again, a hybrid option may be best to keep your team’s trust while using this leadership style as the main point.
A servant leader is a leader who genuinely cares for each direct report, and each decision is motivated by what is best for their direct reports first. This leader’s move into leadership tends to be natural, and their goals align with their team’s.
A servant leader may struggle if their team does not agree on important matters. Conflicts, where everyone cannot be pleased with the outcome, are a struggle for this leader, making tough decisions more difficult for those involved.
Each leadership style has positives and negatives, with some that may only apply in certain situations. Your style is usually based on what comes naturally to you or by example from others.
In deciding to become a nurse leader, your leadership type (or types) plays a huge role in your success. Finding a balance you can build on before taking part would be best. Observing situations now and considering how they are handled will help you think critically about the type of leader you want to be. Combining styles is common, so see if you can identify a style that works for you.
If you are already involved in a leadership scenario, take some time to look back on your actions and consider whether they were the best way to handle the situation. If not, ask yourself what would have worked better and how you can build on that for next time.
As with any role in nursing, education is important and highly valued. To become a nurse leader, you must expand your nursing education beyond a master’s in nursing. Many programs are available for nurses to continue their education to advance their careers.
With the expansion of virtual learning, several programs offer online education. These programs are usually flexible enough for a nurse to continue working while doing classwork. Clinicals are not as flexible, but a nurse should know that constraint.
One big benefit of attending courses online is more affordable tuition. The costs are typically much lower without needing to be located near or on campus.
Carson-Newman Online is an example of a university designed with the working student in mind. Their goal is to provide valuable education to students with as little disruption to their day-to-day lives as possible. If you want to study effective leadership in nursing, you can learn more about the program.
With so many options available, it is important to research to find the school that best suits and supports your needs as a student. Review the benefits of each, including cost, and ensure the curriculum will focus on what you expect to get out of your degree.
Excel at the role
Now that you have decided you want to be a nurse leader, how can you be successful at it?
First, you need to know yourself. Make sure this is something that you are ready to take on and meets your skillset. Take your time if you still have more growth before becoming a leader.
Education, on the other hand, is something that you can move forward with at any time. Once you meet the requirements to enter a program and have the time to complete it, you can begin working toward that goal.
Another option is to shadow other nurse leaders to see whether the position interests you. A nurse leader’s day-to-day activities are different, so it is important to understand what the job entails.
Once you step into the role, you mustn’t become rigid with your leadership style. Remember that many of the best leaders will use a combination of techniques to be effective and gain the trust of those they manage.
Make sure that your presentation of yourself and your leadership skills also reflects the standards of the company that you work for. You are the representative of that company to your direct reports and any patients or families you may encounter throughout your work.
After assuming a nurse leader role, ensure you are always open to learning more. Education is not something that ever stops. Self-improvement is also vital to being the best leader you can be. Improving your leadership skills doesn’t only occur in the classroom; it can also mean reflecting and learning from your situations.
Finally, balancing your values and those of your team and company is important. Working in a high-demand, fast-paced environment can be stressful, so maintain those values with everyone you meet throughout your workday.
As you grow as a leader, you will find what works best for you, your team, and your company. It is essential to grow and strive to excel in your role to help you build confidence and convey it to those you manage.