Essential Leadership Skills for Nurse Managers

Leadership exists in every organization, community and family. Unfortunately, some leaders are ineffective, and the group suffers. Alternatively, great leaders foster efficiency, collaboration and positive outcomes.

In healthcare, nurse leaders operate in complex and highly stressful environments. What’s at stake is far more intense than missing a deadline. Poor leadership could ultimately be a matter of life and death.

What Is a Nurse Leader?

The American Nurses Association’s Leadership Institute offers a “definition” of a nurse leader, describing one as:

  • Interested in excelling in the chosen career path
  • Invested in the interests of the nursing profession
  • Focused on differentiating themselves or advance to the next level of leadership by refining their skills

Why Is Nurse Leadership so Important?

It’s quite simple: nursing leadership determines whether a healthcare organization carries out low- or high-quality care. Strong leadership can assist with:

  • reduced patient mortality
  • better clinical outcomes among patients
  • greater patient satisfaction
  • improved well-being and morale among staff

In order to reach these benchmarks, nurse managers require foundational leadership skills.

Which Skills Are Most Influential?

Effective leadership requires both soft and hard skills. Hard skills generally relate to specific technical knowledge and training that nurses learn in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Administrative Leadership program. Soft skills represent certain personality traits that often come naturally, but people can still learn.

While some blur the lines of both categories, they are all critical. The following represent some of the most influential skills in nurse management.

1) Time management. Healthcare settings are often fast paced. Even in a more laid-back clinical setting, time management and prioritization are imperative. Efficiency optimizes both the provider and patient experience.

2) Conflict resolution. Not everyone agrees on paths to care. Staff members may disagree among themselves. Patients aren’t always agreeable, either. It takes a strong leader to dissuade and neutralize conflict should it arise.

3) Critical, strategic thinking. Nurse managers encounter new challenges every day. Some decisions require immediate attention. The most successful nurse leaders can use their critical-thinking skills to quickly make decisions — and make the right ones.

4) Strong communication. There’s no room for miscommunication in healthcare, whether among staff or when relaying instructions to patients. No one is a mind reader, and nothing can get lost in translation. So, nurse managers need to communicate clearly, concisely and with intent.

5) Delegation. Nurse managers serve in a leadership role, which means they have to trust their staff to perform expected duties. Managers in any organization often take the attitude of, “I could do it faster/better.”

But, if nurse managers are truly effective at their jobs, they will have already equipped their staff with the knowledge and skills to execute delegated tasks and feel confident in handing off those tasks.

6) Empathy. Patients are in vulnerable positions, whether they’re being seen for a sore throat or receiving cancer treatment. Nurse managers who exhibit empathy bring comfort and solace to difficult situations.

However, empathy isn’t just limited to patients. Nurse managers can hold up their staff by being compassionate about their concerns — whether it’s something like long shifts or losing a patient to illness. Listening is a subset skill that advances empathy. Sometimes, nurses within one’s charge just need to verbalize their thoughts.

7) Mentoring aptitude. Given the nursing shortage and the rapidly evolving healthcare environment, this may be the most time-sensitive leadership skill. Nurses who feel empowered will be able to solve the most pressing problems in healthcare, now and in the future.

Often, the field can feel helpless. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly didn’t help, but a nurse manager’s wisdom, guidance and insight act will guide the upcoming generation of nurses and nurse leaders.

8) Dedication. Nursing is not an “easy” field. Illness, tragedy and death routinely permeate the day-to-day. While nurses and nurse managers should always keep their mental health as a top priority, there’s a level of dedication required to keep healthcare organizations running smoothly. Top nurse managers continually challenge themselves and contribute to their own excellence.

Building Your Leadership Foundation

Again, some of these skills are innate — but many can be learned (and optimized) via a solid educational background. By completing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program like the Registered Nurse (RN) to MSN in Administrative Leadership online program at Northeastern State University, nurses pave the way for a successful career in nurse management.

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

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