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The Role of Nurse Leaders

Nursing is a dynamic and challenging profession in an ever-changing healthcare environment. The profession needs engaging and inspiring role models and leaders. According to the seminal study The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health from the Institute of Medicine now the National Academy of Medicine, nurse leaders are well positioned to assist in transforming the healthcare system. As patient advocates, nurses are credited with improved patient outcomes and increased health equity.

As the need for nursing leadership increases, so does the importance of education. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is becoming the standard in the nursing profession. Working nurses can complete an online RN to BSN program to gain the knowledge and skills to advance into leadership roles.

Defining a Leader

A leader can influence others through effective communication and insight. Leaders have a vision for the future that they inspire others to pursue. While some may think of “nurse manager” and “nurse leader” as interchangeable terms, they are not. Not all managers are leaders, and nurses can lead without being in management positions.

A nurse manager is usually responsible for decision-making and oversight of specific processes. While some managers become leaders, a leader may or may not have recognized authority within the organization. For example, a staff nurse can lead by example and mentoring new nurses.

The Responsibilities of Nurse Leaders

A core responsibility for nurse leaders is to advocate for not only patients, but for the nursing profession itself. In fact, in the new Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice, The American Nurses Association (ANA) added nurse advocacy as an essential standard of the nursing profession. According to The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “This advocacy can include actions both to ensure appropriate resource allocation and to promote positive work environments.” Advocacy skills include problem-solving, communication, and collaboration.

Managers are not alone in their leadership responsibility. All nurses can advocate for better workplace conditions and stand up for the nursing profession. An environment that promotes respect for nurses and their health and wellbeing helps nurture nurses who are better role models, educators, and advocates, which is beneficial personally, for the family, for the community, for the work environment, and for the patient.

Another responsibility is ensuring quality patient care. According to Patient Safety and Quality Healthcare, “As healthcare focuses on an increasing number of safety initiatives, nurse leaders are key to successful outcomes.” The article goes on to state that key leadership strategies include the following:

  • Visibility on the clinical units
  • Emphasizing a patient-centered environment
  • Sharing a vision for excellence
  • Active and visible partnerships with physician colleagues

The nurse leader specialty oversees the integration of patient care, including development of treatment plans, collecting and evaluating treatment results and managing patients’ medical teams. These nurses can also lead health promotion and disease prevention efforts.

As nurses gain more leadership experience, they can move into executive positions and become board members who influence important aspects of health care, using their clinical and patient experience to guide policy. These positions can influence not only the nursing profession but also the broader healthcare field.

The Qualities of Leadership

Credibility is the foundation of leadershipif people do not believe in you, they are unlikely to follow your lead. Here are some well acknowledged traits that define great leadership:

  • Advocacy
  • Careful listening
  • Empathy
  • Openness
  • Optimism
  • Honesty
  • Inspiration

While leadership may come naturally to some people, most have to make a conscious effort to develop the skills and knowledge it requires. For nurses ready to earn a bachelor’s degree, an online RN to BSN program that offers an introductory course in those skills can be an important step.

Learn more about the Arkansas State University online RN to BSN program.

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