Careers in Healthcare: Leadership Skills for the Non-Manager

The differences between leadership and management

Leadership Skills for the Non-ManagerLeadership is commonly attributed to and expected of people who are in administrative and management positions. While it is true that effective managers must be effective leaders, leadership is not the sole domain of managers. As a matter of fact, nurses must develop leadership skills in order to be effective as well.

Knowledge of clinical practice and patient care skills is necessary but not sufficient to deliver effective patient care today. Nurses practice in complex organizations; the ability to navigate the complexity is required to assure patients receive safe and quality care. Skills such as facilitating, mentoring, communicating, and negotiating are a few examples of the non-clinical skills needed. In other words, leadership skills are required.

Because having leadership skills is so important, I will present a mini-series on leadership. Each piece will focus on a different element of leadership. In this first piece, I’ll identify the key components of management vs. leadership and hope you will see the relevance of developing and strengthening your leadership skills, no matter what your current position may be.


The Seven Activities of Management

Management, as a discipline, has been studied for over 100 years. By all accounts, it is considered to be a dynamic approach to running operations. Luther Gulick (1937) identified seven activities of management that remain true today. They are:

  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Staffing
  • Directing
  • Controlling
  • Coordinating
  • Reporting
  • Budgeting

These activities, except, perhaps, budgeting, are not the exclusive domain of managers. Nurses take on these activities every day in the context of their work assignment. However, engaging in an activity does not guarantee success. In most cases, the successful accomplishment of these particular activities requires the cooperation of others. It requires leadership.

The Roles of a Leader

Leadership is a phenomenon of great interest to a number of disciplines and is widely studied and has many definitions. The common theme that runs through many of them is that leadership is a process of persuasion by an individual that influences others to take action towards the goals of the leader. A leader takes on many roles to meet his or her goals. Marquis and Huston (2003) generated a partial list of the many roles a leader takes on:

  • Decision maker
  • Communicator
  • Evaluator
  • Facilitator
  • Risk taker
  • Mentor
  • Energizer
  • Coach
  • Counselor
  • Teacher
  • Critical thinker
  • Buffer
  • Advocate
  • Influencer
  • Creative problem solver
  • Change agent
  • Diplomat
  • Role model

None of these roles are exclusive to managers. As a matter of fact, nurses take on these roles everyday for the benefit of their patients and colleagues.

Studying leadership and developing leadership skills has never been more important than today. The healthcare environment is undergoing rapid and significant change. The nurse who has effective leadership skills will be well positioned to assure that patients benefit from those changes rather than suffer because of them.
Gulick, L. & Urwick, L. eds. (1937). Notes on the theory of the organization. Papers on the science of administration. New York: Institute of Public Administration.
Marquis, B.L. & Huston, C.J. (2003). Leadership roles and management functions in nursing (4th ed). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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American Sentinel University delivers the competitive advantages of accredited online degree programs in nursing, nursing informatics, healthcare MBA, and doctor of nursing practice in executive leadership. Its Bachelor’s and Master’s nursing degree programs are accredited by the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). The Accrediting Commission of DETC is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a nationally recognized accrediting agency and is a recognized member of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.