5 Leadership Skills in Nursing That Nurse Practitioners Should Master

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A nurse leader folds his arms and smiles.In the face of our nation’s nursing shortage, the health care field seeks qualified nurse leaders. Mastering top leadership skills is key for nurses who want to make a greater impact on their departments, slow attrition and burnout, and help their institutions achieve better outcomes. To that end, today’s nursing professionals focus on applying emerging technologies, such as telehealth and electronic health records.

Calling for Effective Nurse Leadership

The need for leaders in nursing is immediate. To fill newly created nursing positions and replace retiring nurses, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the U.S. will need more than 210,000 additional registered nurses each year from 2018 through 2028.

Factors Driving the Nurse Shortage

Several issues driving the nation’s nursing shortage make leadership skills in nursing a must moving forward:

  • People are living longer. Life expectancy has reached 78.6 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At the same time, the number of centenarians is swelling. Worldwide, the U.S. leads in the number of people who live to be 100 years old or more. Additionally, the world’s centenarian population is projected to grow eightfold by 2050, according to Pew Research Center.
  • More patients need long-term care. Aging populations are more likely to develop chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer, that require ongoing treatment and long-term health care services. The number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to reach 95 million by 2060 and represent 23% of the U.S.’s total population, according to U.S. Census Bureau population projections.
  • Obesity rates are hitting new highs, as well. Obesity is associated with chronic health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. As with aging populations, this expanding group can require lifelong health care services. According to recent data from the CDC, the obesity rate reached 42.4% in 2017-2018. This far exceeds the U.S. government’s Healthy People 2020 goal of 30.5%.
  • More nurse practitioners are nearing retirement age. Some 50.9% of the registered nurse workforce is age 50 or older, according to a 2018 survey conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has compounded the existing nursing shortage. The global spread of COVID-19 has quickly tested the knowledge, skills and morale of nurse practitioners and other medical personnel who serve as the frontline defense against the virus. Concern over rising hospitalizations has spurred seasoned nurses to come out of retirement.

Leading the Next Generation of Nursing Professionals

As the need for nurses grows, leadership roles in nursing are even more important to effectively guide the next generation of nursing professionals. Nursing leaders offer valuable expertise and skill sets to navigate within fast-moving health care settings.

Operating with fewer nurses means patient-to-nurse ratios rise, which ultimately can lead to errors and higher patient morbidity and mortality rates, according to a StatPearls Publishing article. Nurse burnout and dissatisfaction also are outcomes of a nursing shortage.

Nurse leader roles have expanded to include in-depth knowledge and finesse with health care technology, which today represents the largest capital investment most health institutions make. New and changing technologies extend from big data and analytics to workflow, wellness, and patient and consumer experience, among others.

5 Leadership Skills in Nursing

Nurse practitioners need five fundamental skills to deliver quality leadership in a health care setting. Each of these skills helps nurse leaders ensure their patients receive optimal care.

1. Communication

Leaders skilled in written and spoken communication and in active listening set the tone for the entire department, whether communicating with each other, patients and families, or doctors and other members of the health care team. Mastering communication also improves successful outcomes across other skills.

2. Conflict Resolution

Nurse leaders work to maintain team morale with a thoughtful and consistent approach. Often dealing with difficult personalities, they serve as mediators to parties in conflict while focusing on the common goal of offering patients the highest level of care.

3. Change Management

Effectively managing organizational change is another key leadership skill in nursing. Leaders who plan early and enlist the help of nursing staff to assist in developing and evaluating organizational plans can ease the stress and uncertainty of change.

4. Mentoring

Fundamental to a nursing career is serving as both a teacher and a student. As mentors, nurse leaders gain insight into the strengths and weaknesses of their organization in terms of its onboarding process, practice changes and daily workflows. Active mentorship programs have helped to lessen nurse burnout and boost nurse retention, according to the Association of California Nurse Leaders.

5. Emotional Intelligence

An important characteristic of successful leaders in nursing, emotional intelligence refers to the ability to bring empathy and awareness to interpersonal interactions to better understand and communicate with a wide range of individuals across different situations.

How Nurses Master Leadership Skills

In addition to honing leadership skills in nursing, nurse practitioners can develop skills to become effective nurse leaders by seeking management opportunities in their departments or organizations, by learning from experienced nurse mentors or joining a professional network of nurse leaders.

Actively participating in industry organizations and within communities opens up opportunities for developing leadership skills and connecting with other leaders. Groups like these offer roles in areas such as advocacy, activism, lobbying and networking. Connections can provide motivation, support, insight and valuable feedback.

Seeking an advanced degree in nursing can help nurse practitioners gain the necessary skills to become leaders in their field. Nurses who work toward mastering leadership skills make a positive impact in their own departments and institutions and across the communities where they live and work. While it will take time to remedy the nursing shortage, nurse leaders who gain leadership skills in nursing can help to alleviate nurse burnout and provide morale-boosting mentorship opportunities.

Learn and Leverage Leadership Skills in Nursing

For nurse practitioners looking to pursue a leadership role in nursing, the right program is critical. University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Nursing program focuses on the skills nurses need to lead their departments and organizations. The program offers three specializations: Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner or Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Learn more about the program today.

Recommended Readings:

BSN vs. MSN: What Are the Benefits of a Master’s in Nursing?

What Is Health Policy and What Role Does It Play in Nursing?

Online Graduate Nursing Programs Overview Webinar


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Nursing Shortage”

Association of California Nurse Leaders, “The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of a Mentorship”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “National Vital Statistics Reports”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Deaths and Mortality

Houston Chronicle, “The Role of a Nurse Leader in Communication”

Houston Chronicle, “Strategies for Managing Change in Nursing”

NurseLabs, “6 Ways Nurses Can Develop Their Nursing Leadership Skills”

Nurse Leader, Leader to Watch

Nursing Management, “Managing Interpersonal Conflict”

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity

The Open Nursing Journal, “Nurse Managers’ Emotional Intelligence and Effective Leadership: A Review of the Current Evidence”

Pew Research Center FactTank, “World’s Centenarian Population Projected to Grow Eightfold by 2050”

Population Reference Bureau, “Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States”

Statista, “Is 100 the New 80?: Centenarians Are Becoming More Common”

StatPearls Publishing, “Nursing Shortage”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Outlook for Bachelor’s-Level Occupations”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses