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How to be an Effective Nurse Leader

There are more than 3.8 million registered nurses throughout the United States, making them the largest healthcare profession. Nurses play a critical role in most healthcare services from direct patient care to case management, and the WHO even cites them as “key to the achievement of universal health coverage.”

The importance of nurses and the leaders who guide them, therefore, cannot be understated. Nursing leaders can encourage their teams, improve the care that patients receive, and help their healthcare facilities achieve organizational goals.

The cornerstone to becoming an effective nurse leader lies in learning the traits that help RNs empower others and inspire them to provide the best possible care. Here are five things that nurses should cultivate to help them become successful leaders within their organization.

1. Build a strong team

Developing a strong nursing team, including a sense of camaraderie and solid bonds between members of the group, is an important role for any leader. When you have a group that can function well as a unit, including communicating and collaborating effectively between members, you will improve the atmosphere both for your staff and for the patients.

To create an environment that nurtures these strong team characteristics, encourage communication among the members of the group. Invite their feedback about staff meetings and directives and see if you can make improvements that will enhance people’s understanding of group goals and their roles. Listen to their suggestions and incorporate them when possible.

You also want to demonstrate empathy for your team. Let them know that you understand the demands of the job and are there to help them navigate any obstacles they might encounter. Demonstrate this compassion by actively listening to what people say and avoiding body language that feels dismissive, such as interrupting them or looking at a phone while they speak.

2. Support Your Staff

Your staff should also have confidence that you support them in their continued professional development. You want to help them become the best nurses and medical staff that they can be. And you want them to know you’re here to cultivate their career growth.

Take the time to serve as a mentor for those you lead. Get to know the goals and struggles of each team member and offer guidance when needed. Adapt your communication and engagement styles to their personalities when working one-on-one to foster a stronger relationship. This will help these nurses feel as though they can trust you and will, therefore, make them more inclined to turn to you when they have a question or concern.

In your position as a leader, you are a role model. Your professional conduct and your nursing skills should set the standard for their behavior.

3. Adapt to change

Emerging best practices, advancements in technology, and even the arrival of global health emergencies can cause drastic changes to your role as a nursing leader. To function well in this position, and to lead your team, you must understand, expect, and adapt to the changes around you.

You should avoid getting caught up in the politics of the healthcare setting where you work, but you also need to take the time to understand how the organization functions at its core. Note the goals that they express and how decisions are made internally so that you can adapt and align your own goals and expectations. The better you understand the purpose of the institution, the easier it will also be to adapt to changes when they arise.

As a leader, you will be responsible for helping the members of your unit comprehend and adjust to a wide variety of circumstances. Know the personalities of the members of your group and anticipate who might have trouble with particular types of changes. The better you understand these types of roadblocks, the easier it will be to find solutions that meet their needs and help them successfully move forward.

4. Help train and motivate your staff

As a leader, you want to inspire and motivate your staff to excellence. Work together with your team to create short and long-term goals that you want to hit. Get their input to help build relationships within the group. Let them know that their opinion matters.

In addition to setting goals and charting the course to achieve them, you should continue to offer opportunities for members of the group to continue to learn and improve their skills. When new situations arise, take the opportunity to train the nurses you lead in the latest best practices. Let them see your genuine desire for their professional growth and inspire them to continue improving their nursing abilities.

5. Keep your primary focus on patient care

Remember that at the core, nursing remains focused on patient care. Providing exceptional aid to those in your care is your duty. As a nursing leader, you want to model this patient-oriented care and encourage your team to regularly look for ways to improve the care that they provide. 

To provide quality patient care, ensure that you are completely open and honest with the patient and family when sharing information so you create a sense of trust between all parties. Clearly explaining the facts of the situation alone will help you build relationships with your patients and improve their overall care. Empower others to follow in your footsteps by creating a work culture that fosters this type of patient bonding.

Becoming a successful nursing leader

A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program has the coursework and training needed to transition nurses into leadership roles. DNP degrees are designed to help nurses build their practical knowledge and leadership skills so that they are prepared to fully engage and unite a strong team in a healthcare setting. Armed with the degree, these nurses can seek roles such as Director of Nursing or Director of Clinical Services. 

For those who want to take the next steps to advance their careers, there are online options available—all without having to interrupt their typical work schedule. Multiple program tracks also make it easy to pursue additional training that aligns with professional goals. ACU Online’s BSN to DNP allows those interested to progress directly from the BSN to doctorate level work and their Doctor of Nursing program offers Executive Nursing Leadership and Advanced Nursing Practice tracks.

Becoming an effective nurse leader requires understanding how to lead healthcare staff and inspire them to provide the best possible care for patients. Through coursework and careful personal cultivation of important management traits, you can prepare yourself for positions of leadership in the field. If you want to see what a Doctor of Nursing program can do for you and the future of your career, learn more at ACU Online.

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