Nurses at all levels need leadership skills to help team members function better, improving patient care. To succeed in your nursing career, you must demonstrate leadership qualities such as effective communication, motivation, accountability, delegation, and constructive feedback.

1. Effective Communication

Leaders clearly and succinctly articulate their expectations and seek clarification. Perhaps nowhere is it more important to communicate effectively than in healthcare — patients’ lives depend on it!

Are you effectively communicating with your team? A article suggests active listening and a sense of community as ways to improve communication. Are you listening carefully and asking questions? Need structure? Try the SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation) model to improve your communication technique and patient safety.

2. Motivation

Leaders celebrate successes, cultivate a positive work environment, and inspire their team to be their best. Nursing is stressful — turnover, burnout, and bullying are just a few of the symptoms — so make sure you support and encourage each colleague. Vow not to criticize, complain, or gossip. Look for ways to appreciate someone else or compliment them.

3. Accountability

Leaders take responsibility for both their successes and failures. Emerging RN Leader points out that all nurses are personally accountable for their own actions and their role on the care team. Everyone must work together seamlessly to deliver the best patient care possible. Each member must take responsibility if something goes wrong. So, if a medical error occurs, Duke Global Health Institute suggests considering it an opportunity for improvement in a “safety culture” environment.

4. Delegation

Leaders get to know staff, skill sets, and communication styles by spending time with their team. They need to build a trusting relationship so they can effectively delegate, according to While some leaders may feel that delegating is a sign of weakness or laziness, it is, in fact, a sign of a strong leader. There’s an old saying, “If your unit or department can run without you, you have done your job.” Leaders (and nurses) who try to take on everything by themselves often struggle to get things done and become overwhelmed, negatively impacting the entire team.

Delegation does not always mean transferring the complete responsibility but instilling trust in a teammate. Jennifer M. Barrow and Sandeep Sharma, authors of Nursing Five Rights of Delegation, suggest knowing and using the five rights of delegation — right tasks, right circumstances, right person, right supervision, right direction along with communication — for effective delegation.

5. Constructive Feedback

Leaders look for opportunities to deliver feedback on their team’s performance. To provide effective feedback, offer specific examples/suggestions without overly praising or criticizing. While feedback like “You did great today!” or “Good job!” may feel good, it does not tell the person why they did well and can make it hard to pinpoint exactly what needs to be repeated in the future.

Positive FeedbackConstructive Feedback
“I noticed you improved {skill improved by employee} by paying more attention to ­­­­­{what was paid attention to}.”“When I see this situation, I try to think about {explain your approach}.”
“I like the way you {task done by employee}. It was effective for me because {explain how it was effective}.”“I have found it helpful to {explain an approach you find helpful to the situation}.”
“I see that you did a great job with {task completed by employee}.”“I saw that you did {approach used by employee}. I think you could consider {suggested approach} next time.”

Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. Focus on the person’s work, not the person themselves. This allows the person to separate their self-esteem from their work, which helps improve confidence and prevent burnout.

Leadership skills can enrich nurses in their current roles while also preparing them for promotion. Many systems reward professional development among staff nurses through a clinical ladder system that includes areas of leadership. When looking to promote nurses to leadership positions (preceptor, charge nurse, or manager), organizations often look for not only technical competency but also professional skills like communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and leadership.

How Can a BSN Help?

While an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) provides the basic skills and knowledge necessary to work as a nurse, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) expands your medical knowledge and enhances your professional skills. Since professional skills are so vital to becoming an effective leader, many healthcare organizations only promote BSN-prepared nurses to leadership roles. An online RN to BSN program can help prepare you for your next leadership role.

Learn more about the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s online RN to BSN program.


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