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What is nursing leadership and why it is important within the sector?

Although there are lots of important jobs within the healthcare system, nursing is, without doubt, a crucial one. Qualified nurses, after all, are the backbone of any hospital, private clinic or healthcare facility. Without these knowledgeable professionals to help, patient care and patient outcomes would suffer.

While much focus sometimes goes on the day-to-day work of nurses on the frontline of patient care, nurses in leadership roles should not be forgotten. They are essential to any healthcare facility and help it to run smoothly, efficiently and in the most organized manner. They also ensure nurses who work under them deliver the best service to patients and give the nurses themselves someone to turn to when guidance is needed.

But how can you get into nursing leadership roles, what makes them so attractive, and what should you expect from them?

How can you break into nursing leadership? 

If you already work within the nursing sector, it is not too hard to find a route into more advanced leadership roles. As with becoming a registered nurse, education plays a major role, and you will often need to complete extra qualifications to move up a level. Luckily, there are some academically robust and great value courses you can take online now to achieve this.

If you are looking for an online nursing school, Marymount University is a great option to consider. They have a range of courses (such as the MSN to DNP program) which can be studied part-time by busy working nurses. Known as one of the top universities for nursing in the US, Marymount makes it simple to access the learning you need to become a nursing leader.

But what if you are not already working as a nurse? Many roles will ask for a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and they may also require additional qualifications. As a result, if you plan to switch into nursing from another sector, you may first have to gain your bachelor’s degree before embarking on further study for more advanced positions.

Why are nursing leadership roles so appealing? 

Whether you are coming into them from another sector or working your way up the career ladder within nursing, there is no doubt that leadership roles in this industry are extremely attractive. But why is this the case?

To begin with, leadership jobs bring a great sense of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. As with other nursing roles, they allow you to really make a difference and have a direct impact on patient care. However, the bonus of more advanced roles is that you can have more of an impact and be involved in decision making or setting policies.

It must also be said that most leadership roles within nursing are well-paid, and this is not something to ignore. For example, the average chief nursing officer salary now is around $137,310, which shows how well-rewarded these jobs can be financially.

Many people, especially working nurses making the next step up, also find these roles attractive because they allow them to advance in their career.

By gaining the qualifications needed for more advanced leadership roles, you can not only achieve a higher status in the industry but also progress within the sector. This alone brings a feeling of accomplishment, which is great for your own self-esteem.

Preparation is key for nursing leadership  

While there are many benefits to working in an advanced nursing position, you should be sure to go into it with your eyes open. This will mean you know what to expect and ensure you will enjoy it. Finding out more about working as a leader in nursing beforehand also means you are not surprised by what any role you move into entails.

But what should you be prepared for when working in these kinds of positions?


Moving into an advanced role in any sector brings greater responsibility. This is true for nursing leadership jobs, which come with more accountability for the decisions you make. As you will be directly involved in setting policy, managing nursing staff and making tough calls around budgets, you should expect to be accountable for them. It is vital that you consider this and are happy to handle the pressure it brings.

Of course, this is not something that should put you off moving into higher-level roles in the industry. Indeed, many people thrive in this environment and enjoy being able to make decisions. As long as you can rationally back up any calls you make, there should be no problem.

Managing people 

Most nursing leadership roles will require you to manage people — often large teams of nursing staff or other employees who fall under your remit. This can be anything from signing off leave to holding disciplinary meetings or providing pastoral support to workers.

It is essential to expect this and be ready for it. Although this might be a change if you are not used to managing people, you will soon find it an enjoyable part of the job. The crucial thing is to always treat people fairly, retain your integrity and communicate well with staff. If you can do this, you should find managing the nurses in your team presents no issues.

Less time on the front line 

Another thing it is sensible to expect from any role in nursing leadership is less time on the front line providing primary patient care. This is especially crucial for working nurses to consider, as you will be less involved with patients on a day-to-day basis when moving into a more advanced position.

In addition to less time on the front line, you should also expect more time in meetings and more time at your desk. A major part of any nursing leader’s role, after all, is attending key meetings around healthcare policy, feeding back to more senior staff and getting through their key administration tasks each day.

IT and data analysis 

The modern healthcare system relies on not only collecting and learning from data but also analyzing it effectively. This means that people in leadership roles must usually spend some of their time looking at the latest data for their team/department and drawing key insights from it. It is important that you are not only able to do this, but that you also enjoy it.

Similarly, working at more advanced levels within the sector usually requires you to have excellent IT skills — and use them regularly each day. From Zoom meetings to online dashboards or emailing out a new staff policy to your team, you should expect IT to be a big part of your new job.

Why is nursing leadership so important to the industry? 

The above highlights some of the key things to expect if you move into nursing leadership — but why is this sort of job so crucial for the whole sector?

In broad terms, leaders are required in nursing to ensure healthcare facilities run smoothly and efficiently. People in these positions, for example, ensure the latest healthcare policies are followed by nurses and make sure the best care is given to patients.

They can also be required to keep an eye on departmental budgets, so the facility does not run into issues with money. Nursing leaders may also ensure a hospital or clinic always has enough essential supplies to care for patients or that there are enough staff on each shift to deliver a top-class experience.

Leaders in the industry are also important because they drive innovation and help the nursing industry progress over time. By looking at how a healthcare facility is operating currently, for example, and suggesting changes that could improve things, they can have a massive impact. It is not just on a local scale that this is true — nursing leaders can often come up with new ideas or processes that can help the healthcare system improve across the country.

Nursing leaders key for the direction of staff

It is also worth considering that people in these positions provide much-needed direction and leadership within healthcare facilities. They are the people, after all, who pull all the various team members together and ensure a department is running as it should. As well as providing a central point for nurses to look to for guidance, they also show people what the facility stands for and where it is heading. In addition, leaders in the industry ensure the nurses under them have one focal point for information.

Although much of the attention for leaders in the industry is operational, they are also important on a personal level to the nurses they lead. This can see them providing inspiration for people to perform to their best abilities and provide top-level care. It can also mean nurses have someone they trust to speak to when they are dealing with personal or work issues.

What are some of the top jobs in nursing leadership? 

If the above has made you seriously think about working this exciting niche within nursing, you may wonder what specific roles are most common to apply for.

A clinical nurse manager is a good example of a popular leadership role in nursing and offers a little more patient contact than other leadership roles. This is because CNMs supervise nurses in their team when they are providing care to patients. Other tasks included in this job are troubleshooting problems, resolving conflict and setting the department’s schedule. A bachelor’s degree in nursing is usually needed for this job and the average pay is around $86,455, according to Payscale.

A well-known position we have already mentioned is chief nursing officer. This is the top nurse in any healthcare facility and assumes responsibility for all the nurses it employs. Their main role is to uphold nursing standards and budget for all items related to nursing. They are also responsible for ensuring all nurses in a clinic or hospital follow the latest policies/guidelines. As you might expect from such a top role, a master’s qualification in nursing is needed to move into it.

What other roles involved nursing leadership? 

One other interesting leadership role in nursing is vice president of nursing. This sees you taking on overall responsibility for nursing procedures within a facility. Tasks involved in this role can include overseeing healthcare IT, management of patients and keeping an eye on nursing assignments.

Director of nursing is also an interesting position to move into and one that many healthcare settings employ. A step up from clinical nurse manager, it involves leading a team of nurses and steering the overall direction for that team/nursing department. This job can also involve strategic planning for the department and driving up standards of patient care.

Nursing leaders play a key role in modern healthcare

The modern healthcare system has advanced greatly over time and now uses the latest technology to deliver high-end care to patients. Leadership roles within nursing have also grown to become very important to the sector in recent years. It is not an exaggeration to say that hospitals or clinics now would not provide the best care to patients or run as efficiently without leaders to guide them.

In addition, nurses within these settings would not have effective leadership needed to inspire them or provide much-needed support. All this makes leadership roles in nursing exciting to explore. It is crucial to be prepared for it first though, and fully aware of what this sort of job involves.

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