Leaders are required in all kinds of professions, and although leadership might be something that you initially relate to business and only business, the fact is that without good leadership, many other areas of life would be much more problematic. Take nursing, for example. Nurses are trained to work autonomously and they have a huge range of skills they can use to help their patients, but even so, without strong leadership, problems can occur. 

Every hospital, clinic, or other medical facility will need not just nurses, but nurse leaders too. For those who want to help people and who also have ambitions of leadership and advancing their careers, nursing could be the ideal place to be. This is especially true since more and more people are requiring medical care (the ‘baby boomer’ generation is reaching an age where nursing care may be appropriate) and there is a definite nursing shortage due to many nurses coming up for retirement age and fewer nurses being trained; without strong, practical leadership, exhaustion and frustration could quickly win out, and more nurses – good nurses who can really make a difference – could quit. 

It’s vital that good nurse leaders are able to create strong teams to take up the slack and to ensure that there will be future leaders too. 

So what is needed when it comes to being a good nurse leader? Are the qualities the same as you would find in business? Would someone who has never nursed before but who has a desire to switch careers from the corporate world to a more caring one have the skills required to lead? Read on to find out. 

Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional intelligence is a trait that all nursing leaders must have and, more than this, it’s a trait that they must help any trainees or mentees develop too. Emotional intelligence means being able to manage and understand – even use – your emotions in a more positive way, ensuring that you are able to communicate effectively, be socially aware, have empathy, be less stressed, and overcome any challenges. 

It’s clear that nurses will need to have excellent emotional intelligence if they are going to be successful in their careers, particularly since there are various challenges to overcome each day. A nurse leader needs to be particularly in tune with their own emotional intelligence in order to be a good role model for the team.


One of the most important elements of being a great nurse leader is to have integrity. Integrity essentially means sticking to your core belief values and being honest and moral at all times. When nurses have personal integrity, they are better able to make the right choices for their patients, and the rest of their team. Although this might mean looking at the bigger picture rather than the immediate moment, which can be difficult and lead to hard choices being made, it is this ability to hold on to their integrity that makes a great nurse leader. 

Effective leaders must also learn how to teach ethical practices so that younger or newer nurses can make better decisions that are safer for the patient and the overall team. 

Critical Thinking 

A nurse leader must be an excellent critical thinker; decisions will need to be made quickly and calmly, often with life or death consequences. Critical thinking means being able to process all details of a situation and connecting them in a logical way to create the best outcome. 

In a medical environment, this skill is absolutely essential, especially as nurses are often working autonomously. As a nurse leader, the skill is even more important; your team will be looking to you for guidance, especially when the situation is a difficult or traumatic one. By staying calm and thinking critically, you can direct your team as you need, ensuring that your leadership stands out. 

Dedication To Excellence 

A nurse leader is always going to be dedicated to their profession; nursing will be hugely important to them, and their care and compassion for their patients will be just as much a part of them as their ambition is. It’s what makes nurse leaders different from other business leaders who may be able to separate their emotions from the rest of their work. In nursing, as mentioned above, emotions are going to come into play, and it’s wise to be able to handle them in the right way. 

This does not mean you can’t love your work, and in fact, being a nurse leader may well involve showing your team just how much you enjoy nursing, helping others, and enabling them to achieve more in their lives and career. 

Showing a dedication to excellence is part of this. When you do this, you are using a technique that should improve the performance of every member of your team, especially if you assess it during the regular reviews that a nurse leader will need to carry out for each staff member under them. A nurse leader who is dedicated to excellence will deliver the very best service and care they possibly can at all times, a trait the rest of the team would do well to emulate. 


You don’t have to be a nurse leader to be a true professional in the nursing sector; all nurses should be as professional as possible at all times. Yet if you’re going to be a leader, this professionalism must be first and foremost in your mind, and it’s something that cannot slip – you are representing your entire team and your department, and without professionalism, everything else can easily fall apart. 

A nurse leader might even represent their team or department in the boardroom, depending on the situation and the scope of their position. Again, pure professionalism is going to be required if this is the case. 

Professionalism means looking smart, whether wearing a suit or Uniform Advantage women’s scrubs – the clothes should be crease-free, clean, and fresh. Hair should be tidy and neat. But more than how a nurse looks, professionalism extends to how they act. Being a professional means putting the job first and, no matter what the situation, always acting as a nurse first. 

Communication Skills 

A great leader is nothing if they can’t communicate their needs and requirements to the rest of their team. Communication is a skill that all nurses must be able to do well in; speaking to patients, their families, nursing colleagues, and other medical staff including doctors is crucial. A nurse who cannot communicate well will only ever be able to give a patient the medical side of their treatment, whereas a nurse who can communicate will be able to offer more than simply medication and bandages; they will be able to offer compassion too. 

In order to make collaboration and teamwork easier, a nurse leader must be able to communicate effectively, be understood, and be sure that their team will carry out their orders and requests without delay and without needing to question the meaning behind each demand. 


A nursing leader must not only garner respect, but give it too. The best nurse leaders are the ones who are clearly dynamic, passionate, and influential, and who have the respect of their team not just because of these reasons, but because they are genuinely good leaders. 

Respect stems from understanding other people’s positions and engaging with those people in a productive and positive manner. In other words, a good nurse leader should be able to talk to their team and find out more about each individual’s circumstances so as to better understand them. 


There are some leaders who simply tell other people what to do and expect them to get on with it, only taking the time to criticize if the task is not done to their liking or a high enough standard. Then there are leaders who are much more like mentors, not just telling people what to do, but taking the time to explain how, why, and taking an interest in the process. 

This latter version of a leader is what a good nurse leader needs to be like. Nurse leaders need to inspire their team, but they also need to be a part of it, becoming a mentor to less experienced nurses and helping them to become better at what they do. Only then will the entire team be able to work smoothly together. 

Nurses don’t come into the role knowing everything and having all the skills they need. They’ll have many, of course, but many more will come with experience. Unless they have a good nurse leader at the head of their team, that experience will be hard-won, and may not come at all. There is no time for egos when helping patients, and nurse leaders will need to understand that although they are a leader, they need their team just as much as the team needs them (maybe more), and becoming a mentor is a good way to ensure everyone is working together.