Every Nurse Can Be a Leader

What is the difference between a manager and a leader? While many people can be both, the roles are not necessarily the same. The biggest difference between them is the way they motivate the people around them. Although managers are part of a hierarchy, not everyone above you in that hierarchy is necessarily an effective leader.

Leadership can be broadly defined as the process by which an individual influences other individuals in a group to accomplish key goals, while directing that group in ways that make it function more cohesively.

By this definition, leadership can exist independently of manager status. You don’t have to supervise or manage anyone to position yourself as a leader. Even staff nurses can begin to build a strong foundation for leadership.

Credibility is the foundation of leadership

People are most willing to follow a leader who is credible; for this reason, credibility has been called the foundation of leadership. At any level of your nursing career, you can begin to establish personal credibility by adopting the following behaviors:

  • Honor your commitments and don’t make commitments you can’t keep.
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes. Don’t fall into the bad habit of playing the blame game.
  • Be generous with compliments and praise whenever it’s deserved.
  • Become a good listener and express empathy for those around you.
  • Identify your personal values and communicate them to your colleagues and managers through your actions and words.
  • Learn to work productively in groups or teams.
  • Express enthusiasm for your assignments and optimism for the future.
  • Manage your time wisely. Learn to set priorities and to eliminate activities that waste your time.
  • Build a personal network. Networking allows you to develop social skills and gives you the opportunity to expand your knowledge.

Be proactive

At the staff nurse level, you can demonstrate leadership skills by being proactive, rather than living with the status quo. Some specific ways to do this include:

  • Patient assessments. As the front-line caregiver, you can keep a close eye not only on a patient’s vital signs, but on their mental state, level of pain, risk for falls, etc. Be ready to move forward with a nursing intervention, or to advocate for your patient by speaking to others in the care team.
  • Effective communication. Always speak up when you notice something that doesn’t seem quite right, even if it means questioning a physician or nursing manager. Be willing to share ideas that can enhance the quality of care in your unit.
  • Patient advocacy. You can advocate for your patient’s safety by following all protocols and reminding others to do so as well – whether it’s washing your hands or ensuring that minimum staffing ratios are being met.
  • Knowledge building. Be willing to do some extra research on a patient’s condition or a workflow process you feel could be improved on. Take courses or read widely about building leadership skills, and try to put these skills in practice every day. Seek out a mentor who can share knowledge with you.
  • Teamwork. Be willing to mentor less experienced nurses. Volunteer to serve on a committee. Step forward when you see something needs to be done.