7 Tips for New Nurse Leaders

Starting a nursing leadership role? Here are seven tips that will help you succeed in your new role.


  • Workforce Development Columnist
    Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement. Has 25 years experience.
7 Tips for New Nurse Leaders

Florence Nightingale once said ...

"To be 'in charge' is certainly not only to carry out the proper measures yourself but to see that everyone else does so too.”

This is a perfect description of how a nurse leader operates on a daily basis.

If you are starting a nursing leadership role, you are probably excited and ready to begin. You may also be a little nervous and wonder if you are prepared for this big step in your nursing career. Here are a few things you should know about your new job and some tips you can use after landing a nursing leadership position.

What is a Nurse Leader?

Nursing leaders often begin their careers by being a high-functioning bedside nurse. You may also hold a specialized certification to show your expertise in one area of nursing. You have likely worked your way up from a bedside position to charge nurse, nurse manager, and ultimately into this new adventure as a nursing leader.

According to American Sentinel University, nurse leaders lead clinical teams which usually include groups of managers and registered nurses. Leaders continue the essential nursing role of patient advocacy, possess stellar communication skills, and mentor other nurses daily. Nurse leaders are usually responsible for the provision of quality patient care while strategically overseeing and ensuring evidence-based practices are implemented. Leaders are in charge of several committees and must be able to delegate with ease.

If you've just started in a nursing leadership role, you might be wondering what types of activities you can do to ensure your success. Here are a few tips that will help you succeed.

1. Find a Mentor

In past roles, you may have oriented others to the unit and served as a nurse mentor. As you take on this new job, you need to find an experienced nurse leader who can be your mentor. A mentor can share their experiences with you and also provide motivation, guidance, and role modeling. They are a safe place to go when you have a question or run across a new situation that you aren't sure how to handle.

To find a mentor, connect with other nursing leaders at your facility. You can ask your manager or the human resources department if they can help you find a mentor or if they have a formal mentoring program. If this strategy leaves you empty-handed, try doing a quick search on Linkedin for nurses in similar roles, then reach out to see if they are open to being your mentor. Schedule regular meetings with them to build a collaborative relationship so that you feel supported.

2. Do a Leadership Inventory

Good leaders know their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing where you excel and where you need to improve can be very helpful when creating professional goals and working to be the best leader possible. To get a clear list of your strengths and weaknesses, take a leadership inventory. A few assessments to consider include the Myers-Briggs Emotional Intelligence Assessment, and USC's Leadership Style Self-Assessment.

3. Ask for Training

While you may have been a nurse for many years, leading a higher level team of managers and nurses is new to you. Don't be afraid to ask your supervisor for formal leadership training. This might include going to a conference or attending an in-person or online course. You should also ask for on-the-job orientation and ongoing training as needed to ensure your success.

4. Become Business-Savvy

Nurses are not taught about budgets or rules and regulations in nursing school. Most leaders learn how to navigate these and other business tasks on-the-job. However, taking a course or asking for training can put you ahead. You might also want to learn about team communication, mentorship, and quality improvement initiatives. Another area that many nurses struggle with is technology. Be sure to ask for training on all tech systems you must use in your new role.

5. Learn to Listen

It may seem that leaders spend a lot of time talking. However, it's critical to know that a good leader spends more time listening. Most people listen to respond. However, leaders should always listen to understand. Effective listening shows empathy, mindfulness, and that you truly care.

Take time to listen to your staff about their wants and needs. Spend the first few weeks at your new job interviewing team members and asking them what is important to them. One of my favorite questions to ask is what their number one goal would be if they were in my role. This seems to get to the heart of any problems that are currently facing your new team.

6. Be Open to New Ideas

Don't let your excitement for your new job cloud your vision. You need to build a team around you. This means that you should start looking for trusted team members and asking them for their ideas and opinions. This will help build team spirit and get buy-in once you start making any needed changes. Having a solid team around you will also allow you to delegate and feel confident that tasks will be completed well even if you are not intimately involved. Be sure to listen to any feedback and be open to doing things differently than you first thought if a team member comes to you with their own ideas.

7. Embrace Humility

Humble leaders bring staff members together. Showing humility can inspire others around you and create a team that wants to do good with you and for you. A few ways to practice humility in the workplace includes admitting when you make a mistake, asking for help when you need it, requesting feedback often, and showing your appreciation for others.

Get Ready to Succeed

New jobs are challenging, even if it's one you've been dreaming of since you first became a nurse. By using a few of these tips during your first year as a nurse leader, you will be well on your way to success.

If you are a nursing leader, what other tips would you give to a new nurse leader just getting started?

Put your tips and tricks for a successful first year in the comments below. If you are new to nursing leadership and have questions about how to navigate this new role, let us how we can help by posting a comment below.

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa Mills, RN, BSN, MHA is a nursing leader and writer. She has been a nurse for more than 20 years and possesses many years of experience running nursing teams.

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