9 Principles of Successful Nurse Leadership

More than half of the current nursing workforce is comprised of baby boomers, and with a current shortage created by those nurses retiring, there are plenty of advancement opportunities for current nurses.

Nurses are a critical factor in healthcare success. They provide professional care to patients in hospitals, nursing homes and doctors’ offices. Nurses also offer emotional support to patients and families, and they collaborate with other medical professionals to educate caregivers. Thanks to growth in the field of nursing over the past 20 years, many nurses now perform medical tasks once limited to physicians. Creative, compassionate nurses committed to the healthcare profession can make excellent nurse leaders.

Nurse Leadership Career Description

Nurse leaders are responsible for all nursing tasks within a healthcare organization. They may oversee an entire unit, such as the medical or surgical and intensive care unit at a private hospital, or they could lead the mental health unit at a regional health center.  Nurse leaders plan, direct, lead and evaluate nursing care activities within their domains. Specifically, these professionals take charge of creating workflows, overseeing staff development and maintaining a departmental dashboard showing information and progress. As communicators, they liaise among departments, patients and families to ensure a frictionless experience for the patient and the healthcare staff. Sometimes, nurse leaders even provide clinical patient care.

Principles of Nursing Leadership

According to American Nurse Today, these nine principles determine successful nursing leadership:

1. Commitment to excellence.

Foundational to strong and effective leadership, a commitment to excellence means striving daily to meet quality standards. Top leaders look beyond the regulatory measures of their profession to establish rigorous expectations for themselves and their teams. A good rule of thumb is to establish three priorities every 90 days, measure success and repeat the process.

2. Measuring the important things.

For nurse leaders, important “things” include people, service, quality, growth and finances. Since these nursing professionals are more than clinicians, they need to measure patient and employee satisfaction, make plans for quality performance improvement and keep a close eye on financial management. Perhaps most importantly, nurse leaders must measure their own personal growth as caregivers and leaders.

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3. Building a culture around service.

Like many other industries today, healthcare increasingly strives to be customer-centered and customer-responsive. Effective nurse leaders train their staff to see patients and their families as customers and to provide personalized levels of care.

4. Creating leaders.

Leadership guru John Maxwell said, “A successful person finds the right place for himself. But a successful leader finds the right place for others.” He or she highlights others’ strengths and helps them overcome their weaknesses. Nurse leaders need to find the time and energy required to nurture those around them into positions of growth, including raising up new nurse leaders from among their own teams.

5. Focusing on employee satisfaction.

Nurse leaders can envision the workplace of their dreams. They ask themselves questions such as, What does the work environment look like? How do employees treat each other? What policies bring the team together? How is conflict managed? As nurse leader, these professionals get to make that dream a reality for those who look to them for guidance. Simon Sinek, author of “Start With Why,” said it best: “Under poor leaders we feel like we work for the company. With good leaders we feel like we work for each other.”

6. Building accountability.

Employees like to know when they are hitting the bull’s eye on their targets and when they are a little off. No one wants to be blindsided at annual review with a list of ways in which they didn’t quite measure up during the year. One way to help employees consistently meet or exceed expectations is with quarterly meetings in which the nurse and nurse leader jointly establish micro-goals for the next quarter and review progress on the last quarter.

7. Aligning goals and values.

Most healthcare organizations establish a mission and values that reach beyond the requirements of regulatory agencies. It is a nurse leader’s job to make sure those values are lived out in the daily activities, work habits and goals of each team. Standards and values also provide established, clear and written directions that allow a nurse leader to help a team member course correct when necessary.

8. Communicating all levels.

Nurse leaders oversee interdisciplinary teams, which may include support services, physicians’ staff, and even senior leaders from many other units or departments. Fostering trust and establishing clear communication channels among individuals, units, departments and teams build a strong esprit de corps that can improve employee satisfaction, reduce turnover and save on costs.

9. Recognizing success.

Honoring successful staff should not be restricted to a plaque at a luncheon on Nurse’s Week. It’s a regular habit that can extend from a quiet word of appreciation to a creative way to say “congratulations” to a staff member during the weekly meeting. A team that feels like their hard work is rewarded is likely to keep working diligently.

Nurse Leadership: An Overview

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that registered nursing will add 438,000 new jobs between 2016 and 2026, a rate of growth that’s double the national median for all occupations. These nurses will earn a media annual salary of $70,000. The BLS also projects that healthcare management, including nurse leaders, will grow by 72,100 jobs, a rate of 20 percent. The median salary for these positions stands at $98,350 – far higher than that of a registered nurse.

Becoming a nurse leader typically requires a master’s degree in nursing and experience in leadership. D’Youville College offers an online online master’s degree in nursing leadership to prepare students for leadership roles in the evolving healthcare environment. This degree includes 180 hours of nursing practicum, which students can complete at their places of employment.