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What does nursing leadership and management look like?

At a glance

  • Many nursing positions require leadership skills, which can help improve overall patient care, quality improvement and safety.
  • Some skills that can help make nurses become better leaders are empathy, patient safety and interprofessional collaboration, among others. 
  • Nursing leadership roles include director of nursing, charge nurse, nurse supervisor and clinical director.
  • University of Phoenix offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing that help students learn critical leadership skills. 

Many roles in the nursing profession require leadership skills, particularly in interpersonal communication, problem-solving, and quality improvement and safety. You’ll need to strike a balance between providing quality patient care while managing a variety of other tasks, or direct reports, in a healthcare environment. Let’s take a look at some of the qualities of good leadership and how to become a better nurse leader.


Explore degrees that expand your skills and prepare you to lead in nursing. 

The major qualities of good nursing leadership

Nurse leaders share a variety of key qualities that they may implement on a day-to-day basis:

  • Make evidence-based practice decisions about assessments, treatments, therapy and other modalities that help improve patients’ quality of life.
  • Communicate effectively, which improves interprofessional collaboration, allowing nurses and patients to connect and make progress toward health-related goals.
  • Mentor others to help train the next generation of healthcare experts.
  • Practice with integrity, maintaining strong moral principles and following the Code of Ethics for Nurses while fulfilling daily duties.
  • Efficiency and productivity to optimize internal schedules, patient assessments and meetings with patients’ family members.

A combination of professionalism, communication, quality improvement and problem-solving allows a nurse to prioritize patient interests while performing assessment and providing any required care.

Skills that help make a better nurse leader 

Nurse leaders depend on a variety of soft and hard skills to provide value for patients and fellow team members. Here are just a handful of examples to consider:

Hard skills

  • Information technology — Collect and evaluate information within informatics systems and through other IT programs.
  • Evidence-based practice — Analyze research concepts and methods for evidence-based practice.
  • Applied statistics — Explore the use of applied statistics and research results to support evidence-based practice.
  • Regulatory compliance — Integrate safety, regulatory and ethical requirements.
  • Advanced clinical practice — Analyze knowledge of advanced pharmacology, pathophysiology and physical assessment to improve direct population health.
  • Project development — Apply leadership and communication skills through the development and assessment of an applied project, including evidence-based guidelines, design, an implementation plan, an evaluation plan and dissemination.

Soft skills

  • Empathy — Demonstrate a genuine interest in patient needs, interests and outcomes, and practice sensitivity.
  • Problem-solving — Apply evidence to improve complex systems of healthcare for diverse populations.
  • Decision-making — Lead the advancement of the nursing profession to influence interprofessional decision-making.
  • Critical thinking — Exercise clinical judgment, which can impact the outcomes and care of patients.
  • Interprofessional collaboration — Work together in a healthcare setting to accomplish goals, maximize efficiency and achieve optimal outcomes for patients.

The importance of effective nursing leadership

Effective leaders help to improve the performance of everyone around them. Nursing leaders help promote a safe and evidence-based practice environment in a healthcare setting — not only for healthcare professionals but also for patients and their family members.

Effective nursing leadership can impact individual career outcomes for many of a nurse’s fellow employees. Nurse leaders often help mentor less-experienced healthcare professionals, providing valuable on-the-job training and peer feedback to help them take next steps in their own careers.

These same nursing leaders also take pride in their work — and deliver safe and quality improvement outcomes — in ways that reflect well on practitioners or physicians who collaborate with them, as well as entire healthcare organizations.

How to develop your nurse leadership skills

Improving your nurse leadership skills can take time. It’s important to choose an education partner with a history of creating effective leaders in healthcare.

Here are a few ways you can improve your leadership skills in the nursing profession:

Leadership roles in nursing

Nursing leadership roles typically allow you to promote smooth facility operations while you advocate for better patient outcomes.

Here are a few leadership roles in nursing.

  • Nurse supervisor — Nursing supervisors provide a bridge between hospital management and clinical care providers. As a nursing supervisor, you might lead nurses in providing services like medication, treatment and therapy.
  • Clinical manager — Clinical managers help supervise a facility’s nursing staff. They strive to uphold strong standards in patient care, leveraging experience in a clinical role to make sure all patients receive adequate, correct care.
  • Director of nursing — Nursing directors manage a facility’s nursing operations, including most other leadership staff on a nursing floor. They help create goals for nursing staff members and implement policies that promote efficiency, compliance and productive patient outcomes.

These nursing positions offer varying levels of leadership. Depending on your employer, education, certifications and years of experience, you might qualify for a role in nursing leadership.

Leadership styles that can be beneficial in the nursing profession

Nursing leaders are like all other leaders: Each operates in a slightly different way. Depending on your personality and skill set, you might employ a particular leadership style in your nursing profession.

These are common leadership styles you might find in a nursing environment. While they may go by other designations, the standard styles include:

  • Autocratic — Leaders make decisions after little to no input from direct reports. Autocratic leadership benefits experienced nursing leaders who might understand exactly how to proceed in a delicate or time-sensitive situation where patients need immediate care.
  • Participative — Leaders field and consider feedback before reaching decisions. Democratic leadership is ideal for nursing leaders making decisions about schedules, shifts or conflicts that affect the entire nursing team.
  • Transformational — Leaders exceed expectations to implement change that helps everyone realize a shared vision. Transformational leadership can help nursing leaders encourage nurses to be empathetic, particularly when dealing with patients who might have mental health challenges requiring extra care or sensitivity.
  • Delegative — Leaders adopt a hands-off approach to leadership. Nursing leaders who use a laissez-faire leadership model are typically confident in the abilities of the nurses working under them, to the point where supervision isn’t always necessary.
  • Transactional — Leaders use a reward and discipline system to encourage correct behavior. Nurses who use a transactional leadership style might work with younger individuals who may need more attention and who could benefit more from a system that prioritizes efficiency while correcting errors.
  • Bureaucratic — Leaders prioritize company needs and rely on policies to keep team members in place. Nurse leaders often need to deploy a bureaucratic leadership style in situations where there’s little room for mistakes, particularly when patient outcomes are at stake.
  • Servant — Leaders build strong relationships as they focus on individual needs. Nurses might use a servant leadership approach to create an environment where openness and growth of younger nurses are encouraged.

No matter the size of your next nursing clinic, or your individual nursing role, you can implement one or more of these leadership styles to become a more effective leader in your workplace.


Develop your nurse leadership skills at University of Phoenix

If you’re interested in developing the skills to be a better nurse leader, a degree from University of Phoenix can help. The University offers a Registered Nurse (RN) to BSN degree as well as a Master of Science in Nursing degree with a concentration in Nurse Administration. These programs help registered nurses prepare to enhance their nursing career by teaching sought-after skills that can help them become leaders who impact organizational change. To learn more, visit the University of Phoenix website.

Headshot of Michael Feder


A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and its Writing Seminars program and winner of the Stephen A. Dixon Literary Prize, Michael Feder brings an eye for detail and a passion for research to every article he writes. His academic and professional background includes experience in marketing, content development, script writing and SEO. Today, he works as a multimedia specialist at University of Phoenix where he covers a variety of topics ranging from healthcare to IT.


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