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Leadership in Nursing: Qualities & Why It Matters

By Maureen Bonatch MSN, RN

Qualities & Leadership Styles

Strong leaders in nursing are vital to help navigate the constant evolution of health care. Nurse leaders do more than balance costs, monitor productivity, and maintain patient and staff satisfaction. They serve as role models and influence health care organizations at all levels. A strong nurse leader motivates their colleagues, setting the tone for a safe, civil workplace with a culture of high morale and job retention.

Nurses ready to work

What Is a Nurse Leader?

A nurse leader is defined by their actions, and not always by a position of authority. Leaders in nursing inspire and influence others to achieve their maximum potential. They use applied leadership in nursing by drawing upon critical thinking skills to manage a team.


Nurse leaders take a broad view of how daily tasks impact the overall goals of the health care organization. They communicate expectations to their team and motivate them to achieve predetermined goals. Nurses can lead from various organizational areas if they project the necessary leadership qualities to influence others.

Leadership Qualities in Nursing

A nurse leader role combines essential nursing, business, and leadership skills developed through ongoing learning. They must be flexible enough to adapt to technological changes, fluctuating payment methods, new treatment modalities, and regulatory and legislative environments. Critical skills for effective nursing leadership include:


Communication and Collaboration: These skills can reduce miscommunication, encourage shared decision making, and provide a sense of working together toward common goals.

Education and Quality of Practice: Continued professional development allows leaders in nursing to keep pace with the ever-changing health care environment while striving for excellence by supporting quality, evidence-based practice.

Environmental Health and Resource Utilization: Leadership in nursing ensures that patient care can be provided effectively in a safe and healthy environment while promoting wellness among all health care staff.

Ethics and Professional Practice Evaluation: Influential nurse leaders model ethical practices to guide decisions, display honesty by being accountable for their actions, and evaluate their adherence to professional practice standards. Learn more about the Code of Ethics for Nurses.

Professionalism and Leadership: Leaders in nursing build vital relationships and collaborate with various health care teams on sensitive topics. Using critical thinking skills allows those in nursing leadership roles to analyze decisions impacting the organization. They then clearly explain the rationale in a manner that encourages staff support.

Other nursing leadership skills, such as displaying compassion and empathy, can assist the nurse leader in developing interpersonal relationships and gaining respect in their role.


7 Leadership Styles in Nursing


Nursing leadership styles can impact job satisfaction, nurse retention rates, quality of care, and patient outcomes. The nurse’s educational background, personality, and work environment may influence their nursing leadership style. Each type of nurse leader role can be valuable when utilized in the right setting.


The Transformational nurse leader works to inspire nurses to achieve a greater vision by helping with strength development. This nursing leadership style works well with mentoring.

The Autocratic nurse leader makes quick decisions with little input from employees and excels at task delegation. This nursing leadership style may be most effective in an emergency.

A Laissez-faire leadership style puts faith in every facet of a well-oiled machine. This method may work well with experienced teams or self-directed nurses.

The Democratic nurse leader is collaborative and focuses on team success. This nurse leader might excel in quality improvement roles but may not be effective in situations requiring independent decisions.

The Servant nurse leadership style focuses on employee development and individual needs. This method works well with goal-driven environments or as a nurse educator.

The Situational leadership style is the most adaptable since it analyzes the situation and determines the appropriate approach. This nurse leader is flexible enough to modify their approach based on the organization or individual’s needs. This style works well with nursing students but may divert from the organization’s long-term goals.

The Transactional nurse leader does well with short-term goals by focusing on efficiency and performance. This task-oriented style reduces errors and works well with tight deadlines.

Nurse staff meeting

Examples of Leadership in Nursing

Projecting leadership skills in nursing that influences others can allow a nurse to lead without being assigned a specific leadership position.
The aspiring nurse leader might:
• Seek out a mentor or become one
• Volunteer for committee roles
• Become involved in the community
• Take educational courses
• Stay current on the latest health care trends
• Get involved with public policy

A nurse aspiring for a nursing leadership role can get a certification or obtain additional degrees specific to nursing leadership to increase their knowledge base and expand upon professional development. But a title and the education aren’t enough to create an effective leader. Nurses and other health care staff need to believe their contributions make a difference in the organization.

Why Is Nurse Leadership Important?

Nurse leaders make a difference in workplace culture and drive positive changes in health care legislation. When a team admires the qualities of their leader, it boosts morale and promotes a psychologically safe workplace, which leads to higher job satisfaction and retention rates. Influential leaders in nursing ensure that the organization's vision is communicated to the nursing staff while mentoring the nursing leadership of tomorrow.
Explore courses, webinars, and other nursing leadership and excellence resources offered by ANA.

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