Nurse Practitioner Leadership Skills: 15 Skills to Master

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A smiling nurse practitioner in a hospital.

The need for health care leaders who can take on advanced nursing roles is substantial. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 52% job growth for nurse practitioners between 2020 and 2030, a number far higher than the 8% percent projected job growth for the labor market as a whole.

Filling these roles is crucial to meet the needs of an aging population, especially as care providers retire or leave the field. Those who take on these advanced nursing roles are also in a position to lead the next generation of nurses through the complex and ever-changing world of health care.

Indeed, mastering top leadership skills is key for nurses who want to make a greater impact on their departments, help slow the attrition and burnout among nurses and help their institutions achieve better outcomes. However, there is more to effective, inspiring advanced nursing than strong nurse practitioner leadership skills. Advanced education is also a primary key.

After mastering the typical master’s in nursing degree requirements, advanced practice nurses have wide expertise to draw from to adapt to the coming challenges in care delivery.

What Is Nurse Practitioner Leadership?

Nurse practitioner leadership is central to inspiring other nursing and health care professionals to achieve the highest-quality possible care. Nurse leaders monitor emerging health care trends, and have the vision to integrate improvements into their practice and guide others toward embracing them.

Ultimately, nurse practitioner leadership is made up of many elements. Leading by example, mentoring the next generation of nurses, working to improve health policies and standards, striving for excellence in care delivery and standing up for equitable treatment — these are just a few areas where nurse leaders can make an impact.

Why Is Leadership Important in Nursing?

Leadership in nursing is important because its need is immediate and far reaching. To fill newly created nursing positions and replace retiring nurses, the BLS projects the U.S. will need more than 276,000 additional registered nurses each year from 2020 through 2030. The BLS also predicts the need for more than 114,000 nurse practitioners during that period.

Several issues are driving the nation’s nursing shortage, making leadership skills in nursing a must moving forward.

People Are Living Longer

Life expectancy in 2020 reached 77 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While this number represents a dip from the previous year’s number of 78.8, COVID-19 was a significant contributor to that drop. At the same time, the U.S. leads the world in centenarian citizens, and this is poised to increase. A 2022 report published by the data aggregate site Statista projects the number of Americans who live to be 100 will grow from 82,000 in 2016 to 589,000 in 2060.

More Patients Need Long-Term Care

The U.S. Census Bureau projects nearly one in four Americans will be at least 65 by 2060. This is significant from a health care standpoint. 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.

Obesity Rates Are a Concern

Obesity is associated with chronic health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. As with aging populations, this group can require lifelong health care services. The obesity rate reached 41.9% between 2017 and March 2020, according to recent data from the CDC.

More Nurse Practitioners Are Nearing Retirement Age

Nineteen percent of registered nurses are 65 and older — the largest age category in the profession, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing’s 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey. The survey also found more than one-fifth of surveyed nurses plan on retiring in the next five years.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Compounded the Existing Nursing Shortage

Burnout driven by the dire conditions at the height of the pandemic has led to increased dissatisfaction among nurses. A 2021 survey conducted by the American Nurses Foundation reported 31% of nurses under 35 indicated they intended to leave the profession within six months.

15 Nurse Practitioner Leadership Skills

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 advanced nursing skills to navigate within fast-moving health care settings.

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. Sometimes 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 that comes with 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.

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.

6. Cultural Competence

It’s crucial for nurse leaders to develop a care delivery environment that takes a patient’s values, behaviors and beliefs into consideration. By tailoring health strategies to align with cultural traditions and expectations, nursing staff can administer more effective care and build a level of trust within the provider/patient dynamic.

7. Technical Knowledge

The growing influence of tech in health care through innovations such as telehealth and electronic health records (EHRs) can lead to more efficient care, but only if they’re used correctly. Nurse leaders equipped with fundamental tech skills can help facilities integrate new innovations into their care strategies more effectively, which can lead to improved care delivery.

8. Team Building

Nursing is a team effort. Nurse leaders can act as the captains of those teams, using their knowledge and leadership ability to construct cohesive nursing units capable of providing consistent care in a host of situations.

9. Safety Integration

Building a safe work environment and fostering a commitment to safety can help keep patients from harm. It can also protect nursing staff, which can in turn reduce on-the-job injuries, absenteeism and workers’ compensation payouts.

10. Authenticity

Nurse leaders create a specific work environment through leading by example. As such, it’s important they lead nursing staff in a manner that is genuine, encouraging and transparent.

11. Political Intelligence

Politics can drive policy changes that impact health care delivery. Nurse leaders who understand how the political process can influence their work are better prepared to adjust well before new policies or procedures are set in motion.

12. Compassion and Empathy

Nurse leaders are still nurses, and they should possess the qualities that are crucial within the context of the nurse/patient dynamic. Exhibiting compassion and empathy from a leadership role can also inspire nursing staff to exhibit the same qualities in their practice.

13. Delegation

Nurse leaders must know how to divide and distribute work in a manner that aligns tasks with staff members best equipped to handle them. This can create greater efficiency, which in turn can potentially improve care delivery.

14. Open-Mindedness

The health care field’s combination of medical breakthroughs, technological innovation and policy changes requires nurse leaders to be agile enough to navigate a shifting industry. This can enable facilities to consistently meet their care delivery goals as circumstances around them evolve.

15. Integrity and Ethics

Leading a facility toward optimal care delivery must be done by upholding ethical nursing standards. For nurse leaders, this involves providing support to their teams as they make tough decisions predicated on ethically-driven philosophies.

Learn Leadership Skills in Nursing

Effectively learning leadership skills can transform nurse practitioners into effective nurse leaders who can shape the future of care delivery. An advanced degree in nursing can help students learn the nurse practitioner leadership skills to help alleviate nurse burnout, provide morale-boosting mentorship opportunities and move the nursing profession forward.

For nurse practitioners looking to pursue a leadership role in nursing, the proper educational 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 and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

Learn how UND can help you be an important part of health care’s future.

Recommended Reading:

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

Online Graduate Nursing Programs Overview Webinar

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


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, Authentic Leadership

American Hospital Association, Becoming a Culturally Competent Health Care Organization

American Nurses Foundation, Pulse of the Nation’s Nurses Survey Series: Mental Health and Wellness

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

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Mortality in the United States, 2020

Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Adult Obesity Facts

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

Houston Chronicle, “Strategies for Managing Change in Nursing”

Indeed, 10 Nursing Leadership Qualities and Behaviors

Journal of Nursing Regulation, “The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey”

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

Nurse Leader, “Leader to Watch: Mary Ann Fuchs, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN”

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

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

Statista, Number of People Aged 100 and Over (Centenarians) in the United States from 2016 to 2060

StatPearls, “Nursing Shortage”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

U.S. Census Bureau, “Living Longer: Historical and Projected Life Expectancy in the United States, 1960 to 2060”