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What Makes a Good Nursing Leader?

Smiling nursing medical team standing together outside a hospital.

What makes a good nursing leader?

As the health care system evolves, a greater need for nursing leadership emerges

The US is approaching a critical juncture in health care. Faced with a maturing baby boomer generation, an increasing number of retirements in the industry, a strained workforce of COVID-19 frontline medical professionals, and unprecedented medical costs, the national health care system is screaming for innovation, remodeling and leadership.

Nursing is one area being redefined in this new era of health care. Today’s nursing leaders are expected to make long-term, impactful, data-driven, patient-centered decisions and so we see a growing demand for nurses with skills mirroring that of the business world.

The University of Michigan’s School of Nursing’s MSN in Leadership, Analytics and Innovation prepares nurses to advance their professions by arming them with critical decision-making skills, data management expertise, and leadership prowess to propel their careers and broaden future opportunities.

Key Elements of Nursing Leadership

As the nursing profession evolves and advances, demand for an MSN degree is rising. The bottom line: nursing leaders and managers are needed now more than ever. Here are some essential components which constitute nursing leadership.

Focus on Patient Care

Most nurses today have an innate desire to compassionately and effectively care for patients. Leadership in nursing is rooted in the goals of improving patient care and safety. Patient-centered nurses who expand their capabilities through advanced education, mentorship and proactive engagement with management and colleagues are setting themselves up for leadership roles and career advancement.

Communication and Collaboration

A core competency of any effective leader is communication, and in the nursing profession it is essential. Gaps in communication between nursing leaders and their staff can contribute to a multitude of issues, including a potential misstep in patient care. The ability to effectively communicate data, outcomes, challenges, and projections to administrators, physicians, colleagues and teams is a necessary skill to advance in a supervisory and leadership position.

Armed with a strong ability to collaborate and communicate, nursing leaders can effectively impact the decision-making and advancements in health care redesign and management.


Innovations in health care are growing at an unprecedented pace thanks to advances in technologies, access to vast amounts of data, and models of care, Today’s leading nurses must not only be equipped with the readiness to identify challenges within the current systems and within institutional practices, but also need to have the skills and pathways to develop and implement creative solutions. Through innovation and the implementation of high-tech solutions, nurses who lead will streamline care and improve effectiveness, quality, safety, sustainability and affordability throughout the health care system.

Boldly Taking Action

Nursing professionals and supervisors must have the knowledge, tools and resources to confidently take action. Successful nursing leaders manage and synthesize data which is put into strategic action when making key organizational, patient, and operational decisions. Armed with an MSN, nursing leaders can foster improvement strategies that lead to systematic change by applying evidence-based practices, informatics, technology, systems thinking and project management.

Analytics and Decision Making

Analyzing data allows nurse managers to predict future needs and spot trends and potential pitfalls in health care operations. Collecting and interpreting data provides a roadmap for patient care through the continuum. Making effective business decisions and deploying often-scarce resources depends on the ability of health care leaders to think strategically and leverage multitudes of data. Delivering optimal operational efficiency and value-based patient care is the result of knowing what types of analytics to measure and the ability to identify the most impactful data. Making the leap from patient data to systematic data is a key differentiator among effective nursing leaders.

Healthcare Policy

Having a powerful voice to help shape health care policy at both the local and national levels is vital for nurses to advance improvements and affect change. To enhance their professional standing as leaders and experts in their practice, nurses should seek positions on advisory committees, commissions and boards where policies are crafted and decisions are made. Nurses with an MSN are more likely to have a seat at the table where critical policies are set and business practices examined.

Striving for Improved Outcomes

There are several crucial components of care and nurse management that can be improved through an effective, well-trained leader.

Improved quality and safety in patient care: Strong leaders create a positive and collaborative working environment that fosters streamlined processes and policies, therefore allowing nursing teams to deliver the highest quality of care to patients.

Streamlined communication: Leaders with a clear vision, excellent listening skills, and strong communications expertise can create an environment that promotes better care outcomes. Effective communication ensures that information is properly shared and promotes collaboration between interprofessional teams.

Reduced errors, work duplication and strained resources: Trusted nurse leaders are oftentimes associated with a reduction in adverse medical events and medication errors. Fluidity between nursing managers and unit staff contributes to greater overall efficiency, both financially and medically speaking.

Developing Future Leaders

Nursing leaders are encouraged to serve as mentors for all nurses and particularly to those who demonstrate the desire and capability to advance their careers as supervisors as well. Both mentors and mentees will benefit from continued education, which might include completing advanced degrees or obtaining certifications in specialties of interest.

Leaders emerging from the nursing ranks should strive to stay abreast of current research findings. Demonstrating the ability to improve nursing care based on research is an important function of health care management. Also, nurses should be encouraged to seek collaboration and feedback from faculty and veteran nurses in developing career action plans.

When serving as a mentor, nurses should be engaged in providing thoughtful guidance and act as diligent listeners. Fostering a culture of thoughtful feedback and recognition creates an environment for leaders to emerge.

Nursing Leadership Roles

Leveraging experience and an advanced degree such as an MSN allows nurses to rise in the ranks while impacting care and outcomes.

While not a comprehensive list, here are several leadership positions available to nurses:

Coordinator: Organizes patient care and treatment by including all care team members. Coordinators promote continuity of care, decrease costs and prevent hospital readmissions.

Educator: Registered nurses who have clinical experience and academic expertise. Educators lead the training of skilled nursing professionals.

Manager: Experienced Registered Nurses charged with supervising nursing units in clinics and hospitals.

Supervisor: Administrators responsible for managing staff, overseeing patient care and ensuring nursing teams are following policies and procedures.

Specialist: Advanced nursing professionals who are experts in different specialty areas. Their evidence-based practice plays a unique role in the health care system and is associated with improved patient care outcomes.

Director: Administrators, in many cases with advanced degrees, supervising nursing staff and overseeing patient care. Additionally, nursing directors are responsible for many administrative tasks including budgets. Directors are charged with maintaining the highest level of care.

Health & Public Policy Advocacy: Nurses who are trained to effectively advocate for and influence policy to advance their profession and patient care from the grassroots.

It’s clear how the health care industry is changing and the demand for nurses is going beyond bedside care. From communication skills to budgeting, from data analytics to decision making, today’s nursing leaders rely on the education and skills gained from an MSN program to achieve career aspirations and impact the changing health care system.

For information about an MSN in Leadership, Analytics and Innovation at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, visit