Define nursing leadership

the nurse with a mask on face sits at a table image by Cosmic from

Nursing leadership is a combination of personality traits, administrative skills and talents which enable a nurse to excel in the profession.

Nurse leaders, according to Ruth Tappen, Sally Weiss and Diane Whitehead in "Essentials of Nursing Leadership and Management," can inspire others to work together in the pursuit of a shared goal. Nurse leaders can establish these goals while maintaining a balance between legal concerns, ethical demands and patient care.


Nursing leadership can be either formal or informal, according to Eleanor Sullivan and Phillip Decker in "Effective Leadership and Management in Nursing." Formal authority is based upon "legitimate authority conferred by the organisation" and is described in the job description. Informal authority has no specific management role. The nurse rises to a leadership position by virtue of the influence imparted on the "efficiency of work flow" of the area. Within these general types of leadership, three forms of leadership emerge: Authoritarian, a commanding and hands-on style; laissez-faire, a noninterference style; and servant leadership, a collaborative and exemplary style.

Leadership Qualities

The nursing leader exhibits certain distinctive qualities, according to Tappen Weiss, and Whitehead. These qualities are integrity, courage, initiative, energy, optimism, perseverance, balance of work and home life, ability to handle stress and self-awareness.

Leadership Behaviors

According to Tappen, Weiss and Whitehead, nursing leaders demonstrate certain behavioural traits which allow them to excel at their profession. These behaviours are the ability to think critically, ability to problem solve, respect for people, communicate skilfully, the tendency to set goals and share a vision and the development of self and others.

Leadership Traits

According to Jeri Milstead and Elizabeth Furlong in "Handbook of Nursing Leadership," today's and tomorrow's leaders have to have personality traits that allow them to adapt to the constantly changing field of health care. Nursing leaders must be flexible, be able to integrate new ideas quickly and be collaborative. The need for these traits reflects the speed at which medical science is progressing. New procedures, techniques and legal concerns are emerging very quickly and, often, traditional paradigms or models are not applicable to present circumstances.

Leadership Interpersonal Skills

According to Milstead and Furlong, nursing leaders must always function as part of a health care team. Therefore, they must have excellent interpersonal skills. The nurse leader must be able to effectively utilise interdisciplinary teams, interact with whoever has data or resources or information pertaining to the specific circumstance,and must be able to delegate planning or work to able staff members.


The most effective leadership is that which is built upon a strong ethical foundation, such as the Code of Ethics of the American Nurses Association (ANA). According to Kathleen Fenner in "Ethics and Law in Nursing," the "tenets of professional ethics can usually be followed within legal bounds." Moreover, professional behaviour that is guided by ethical mandates is more likely to be "legally defensible than behaviour guided by expediency."