Health Care

Nursing leadership qualities: Inspiring teams to deliver outstanding patient care


When you think about nursing and leadership, you automatically assume nursing leaders bring a host of qualities to the table you would not expect other managers to have. Empathy, excellent people skills, warmth, nurturing, and emotional intelligence are just some of the attributes you take as a given among nurse leaders. By nature, healthcare settings demand excellent leadership due to the multifold needs of staff, patients, and loved ones.

While nurses in official leadership roles must excel in managing teams, streamlining, and driving quality patient care, every nurse must display the qualities of a stellar leader. Nurses shape the care provided by entire healthcare teams, thus ensuring staff satisfaction and patient comfort.

This article explores the core nursing leadership qualities and how they translate into better healthcare for patients, families, and staff. It also outlines the training and career pathways open to nurses with leadership ambitions.

Essential nursing leadership qualities

In nurse leadership training, educators list what is known as the 6 Cs as the core nursing leadership qualities.


Being calm, confident, and clear is a must for nurse leaders. They must decisively pick their leadership style and follow through. By the same token, nurse leaders must admit errors when they occur and may show their vulnerability when appropriate. Confident leadership does not mean a steely regime but rather one steeped in clarity, intelligence, and flexibility.


Outstanding communication skills are essential for nursing leaders. They must provide clear instructions when delegating tasks and communicating the necessary details. Communication works both ways, meaning nurses must excel at listening too. They must have the sensitivity and intelligence to understand staff concerns and ensure staff can express their views constructively.


The best nursing leaders are courageous when dealing with colleagues, doctors, patients, and relatives. In a crisis, they dare to make decisions, and day-to-day, they tackle each task without hesitation. They also have the courage to pitch ideas to improve patient care and to criticize healthcare team members constructively when appropriate.


One of the tasks of nurse leaders is to ensure teams collaborate seamlessly. They must create cohesive teams and promote excellent collaboration. Team members must be encouraged to make a contribution and bring their unique skill sets to the table. Only leaders who are accessible and approachable can build teams of individually valued and happy members.

Conflict resolution

Conflicts invariably arise between management and staff and among staff members. Nurse leaders must be willing and able to intervene, mediate, and help resolve the issues. Healthcare settings experience plenty of stress and strife, meaning nursing leaders must be ready to jump in and mitigate arising disputes.

Commitment to top-quality patient care

The core goal of an excellent leader in nursing is a total commitment to delivering the best patient care possible. This goal becomes the driving force for all other nursing leadership qualities and skills. As leaders in nursing, they must continually drive this unwavering commitment home to staff and other healthcare team members, thus ensuring patient well-being remains the top priority.

Nursing leadership attributes frontline nurses value most

When you explore the must-have nursing leadership qualities, you find that most relate to collaboration, communication, and the ability to deal with people kindly and intelligently. A Canadian study among nursing staff explored the nursing qualities they most valued. Six frontline nurses listed what they perceived to be the most crucial leadership qualities:

  • Strong passion for nursing
  • Optimism
  • Ability to forge strong bonds with staff members
  • Outstanding mentorship and role modeling
  • Strong moral compass
  • Ability to manage crises

It is obvious why these qualities are transformative for staff and patients. They allow nurse leaders to provide bolstered support to staff while ensuring patients and staff can overcome health crises.

Nurse leadership training and job opportunities

If you have nursing leadership ambitions, plenty of training and career paths are open to you. Colleges like the University of Indianapolis offer various nursing leadership programs with online and in-person options. You must hold a current RN license to progress through the most well-known program, namely the clinical nurse leadership (CNL) program.

Against the backdrop of an expanding US healthcare system, job prospects for nursing leaders are excellent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 28% annual growth for the next decade, translating into over 55k new management roles in nursing each year.

Final thoughts

Healthcare services are crying out for more nursing leaders displaying all the qualities of an outstanding nurse and leader to optimize patient care, bolster team performance, and drive care innovation. Nursing leadership is about emotional intelligence, bravery, and clear communication.

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