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The Basics of Nursing Leadership

Today’s complex, multifaceted healthcare systems need great leadership. For nurses, the healthcare industry’s need for leaders represents both an opportunity and a challenge. Nurses interested in leadership roles are in demand and have opportunities to make significant contributions to their organizations.

Nurses can learn many leadership practices and principles in the classroom and in clinical practice. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a focus on administration and leadership can provide the specialized skills, knowledge and qualifications nurses need to lead a department, organization or group to new levels of quality patient care.

By learning how to lead, you can advance your own career and contribute to improving healthcare for your patients. In a leadership role, you can have more opportunities to influence others and make a difference in your work. Plus, with programs like Northeastern State University’s online MSN in Administrative Leadership in Nursing, you can continue working — and applying what you learn to your work in real time — while getting the degree you need to pursue the highest levels of nursing leadership.

The Value and Importance of Nurse Leadership

Nurse leaders help their organizations excel at giving patients the best possible care. To this end, nurses in leadership roles provide support and direction to their team members. Within the field, there can be significant variation between one leadership position and another. Leaders must be flexible and ready to lead during challenging situations. If problems arise, leaders are prepared to act and help their teams rise to the challenge. While there are different leadership styles, strong leaders work to motivate and challenge their teams.

Successful nurse leaders rely on their teams for help and input. Being a responsive supervisor who genuinely cares about each team member can help a leader gain the trust and respect of the people they work with. At the same time, effective leaders are decisive in times of crisis and know when to act with available inputs.

Nurse leaders need good judgment and the ability to think quickly. A high degree of professionalism is expected since nurse leaders represent the organization’s management and nurses on the team look to their leaders for direction. Nurse leaders may also occupy executive-level chief nursing officer (CNO) roles, meaning they are responsible for setting expectations, goals and direction for staff up and down the organizational structure. Whether in the role of nurse manager or CNO, leaders should remember that their coworkers, subordinates and patients can view nurse leaders as role models.

Qualities and Qualifications of Nurse Leaders

Since nurse managers are responsible for their units, they need specific preparation and training. Nurse managers can be directly involved in hiring, training and supervising other nurses. They can create and enforce policies and procedures for their department or unit. As leaders in their units, they can be responsible for verifying that other nurses have the necessary training, licenses and certifications. In addition to providing leadership, nurse leaders may also provide direct patient care.

To become a nurse manager or head nurse, you might need some work experience, additional education, training and specific qualities. Generally, head nurses have at least five years of experience in nursing. Most nurse leaders have at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Many healthcare organizations require at least a BSN degree for nurse manager roles. For example, to be eligible for Magnet recognition, hospitals must require nurses have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In fact, more than 70% of registered nurses (RNs) now have at least a BSN, according to the 2022 National Nursing Workforce Study. Thus, earning a graduate-level MSN degree focused on administration and leadership is becoming more and more crucial to compete for leadership jobs in an increasingly educated nursing workforce. Further, advancement to executive-level leadership positions may require a master’s degree, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For instance, CNOs at Magnet hospitals are required to have at least a master’s degree.

Nurse leaders need to be experienced and well educated so they can provide good direction and leadership. With their extensive backgrounds in nursing, well-prepared nurse leaders can help nurses with less experience learn to become stronger nurses and provide better patient care. With in-depth administrative leadership education, nurse executives can ensure their organization runs efficiently while providing excellent quality care and taking care of staff. Through earning an MSN in Administrative Leadership in Nursing, nurses can acquire the combination of skills, education and clinical training required of those aspiring to leadership roles.

Learn more about Northeastern State University’s online MSN in Administrative Leadership in Nursing program.

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