Nurses at all levels need leadership skills to help team members function better, which ultimately improves patient care. To be successful in your nursing career, you need to be able to 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 — the lives of patients 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 improve 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 to not criticize, complain or gossip. Look for ways to appreciate someone else or give them a compliment.

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, consider 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 and take on everything by themselves often struggle to get things done and become overwhelmed, negatively impacting the entire team.

Delegation does not always mean a transfer of the complete responsibility, but instead 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, be sure to offer specific examples/suggestions without overly praising or overly 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 Feedback Constructive Feedback
“I noticed you improved ______________ by paying more attention to ­­­­­_______________.”


When I see this situation, I try to think about _________.”


“I like the way you ___________. It was effective for me because ____________.”


“I have found it helpful to __________.”


“I see that you did a great job with _________.” “I saw that you did __________. I think you could consider __________ 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 you with 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.

Sources: AONE Leader Describes Characteristics of Good Nurse Manager Nurse Burnout Is Real: 7 Risk Factors and the Top 3 Symptoms Nurse Bullying: Stand Up and Speak Out

American Nurse: Nine Principles of Successful Nursing Leadership

The Balance Careers: Important Delegation Skills for Workplace Success

American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Academic Progression in Nursing: Moving Together Toward a Highly Educated Nursing Workforce

Institute for Healthcare Improvement: SBAR Tool: Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation

Emerging RN Leader: Personal Accountability

Duke Global Health Institute: Establishing a Safety Culture Is Key to Saving Lives

StatPearls Publishing: Nursing Five Rights of Delegation