Have you ever wondered if taking on a leadership role in nursing leadership is right for you? Many nurses consider this path, but they are not sure how to become a director of nursing, manager or executive-level nurse. You may worry that you will miss bedside nursing care if you transition into a position in leadership.
Nursing leadership provides an excellent opportunity to use your nursing knowledge in a new way. You may no longer impact patient care directly, but you improve care indirectly, through staffing, education and mentoring new nursing staff members. If you have ever wondered what nurse leaders do, here are four critical things you need to know to decide if it is the right career choice for you.
What is a nurse leader?
Leadership roles in nursing begin one level above patient care and extend into executive-level positions. Nurse leaders work as managers, directors, administrators and chief nursing officers (often called CNOs). When taking on a nurse leader role, you to have a thorough knowledge of nursing care, healthcare regulations and leadership practices to be successful.
There are multiple examples of clinical leadership in nursing, and it's important to note that you can function as a leader without a title. Many nurses discover their passion for leadership when sharing charge nurse duties or serving on committees.
As a nursing leader, you'll be responsible for creating a vision for your department or organization. Nursing leadership professionals use their problem-solving and analytical skills to meet and exceed patient outcomes and departmental goals. Leaders offer supervision and guidance to nursing staff members, which can include nurse managers, RNs, LPNs and CNAs. Other examples of clinical leadership tasks in nursing include:
- Writing, updating and maintaining policies and procedures
- Providing training and additional education to nursing staff
- Hiring, mentoring and disciplining nursing staff
- Overseeing the delivery of direct patient care
- Ensuring budgetary compliance
- Tracking, trending and reporting nursing department metrics to upper-level administration
Examples of clinical leadership in nursing
As a nurse leader, you may hold various titles or roles. There are three general levels of nursing leadership. Here are a few of the titles and responsibilities that are common at each level:
- Entry-level nursing leadership
As a new leader, you may hold a title such as clinical lead, charge nurse or clinical liaison. You'll likely work on a unit and oversee direct patient care. These professionals usually have added tasks such as education, staffing and resolving patient or family complaints. If the unit is understaffed, entry-level nurse leaders often perform direct patient care.
If you're an aspiring nurse leader, keep an eye on the tasks that the entry-level nursing leaders in your workplace manage. Keep track of when you've taken on additional responsibilities. When it's time to write your new resume and cover letter to apply for an expanded role, you'll be able to offer specific examples of your leadership abilities.
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- Intermediate-level nursing leadership
Nursing coordinators and managers are standard middle-level nursing leadership positions. These nurse leadership professionals may oversee one or more nursing units and have the added responsibility of attending facility-wide meetings and committees.
- Executive-level nursing leadership
Common titles in executive-level nursing leadership include director of nursing, executive vice president and chief nursing officer. Executive-level nurses are responsible for the delivery of care for an entire hospital, long-term care facility, or other healthcare organization. As an executive-level leader, you probably won't perform any hands-on nursing care. However, you will be required to understand the overall function of all nursing departments in your facility.
Essential characteristics of a nurse leader
Here are some of the qualities to keep in mind when figuring out different nursing leadership styles that will help you become a director of nursing or otherwise manage nurses:
Nurse leadership positions require high emotional intelligence (EQ). This means that you have a high level of self-awareness, self-management, relationship management and social awareness. To be a successful nurse leader, you need to learn how to self-reflect, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and be able to evaluate any negative feedback you receive.
- Critical thinking
Critical thinking is an excellent example of clinical leadership in nursing. As a nurse leader, you will make both clinical and administrative decisions daily. You'll need to have a firm grasp of how to set priorities and make difficult decisions for your nursing department. All nurses have critical thinking skills. However, as a leader, you must make clinical nursing decisions and business, regulatory and managerial decisions as well.
Being a member of nursing leadership requires that you are accountable to yourself and your staff. Nurse leaders must keep their word and work collaboratively with all members of the nursing team to be successful.
Mentoring is a critical component of nursing leadership. You'll need to mentor new nurses on your unit to get the most out of your nursing team. You will guide, assist and even act as a role model for nurses on your unit or across your organization. While some mentoring relationships happen spontaneously, as a nursing leader, you need to work on mentorship relationships with intention and planning.
Climbing the ladder to nursing leadership
Do you have what it takes to be a nurse leader? If you enjoy mentoring staff, thinking critically, and being accountable, a career as a nursing director or another leadership role might be right for you. Get started by using our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder to create application materials that will stand out to managers and recruiters looking for aspiring nursing leaders.