8 Steps to Becoming a Nurse Leader

Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN
Updated August 29, 2022
    Want to build stronger nursing leadership and management skills? Read on to learn how you can excel in a nurse leader role.
    Confident male nurse standing in front of coworkers

    Do you ever wonder how some nursing professionals find themselves in the nurse leader role?

    While some make a conscious decision to work in nursing leadership and management, others make an unexpected or unplanned career change, fulfilling an urgent need or filling a vacant position.

    Demand for innovative nurse leaders is high. There is an equally strong call for diversity in nursing leadership, and many facilities seek leaders who represent different races, ethnic groups, sexual orientations, and gender identities.

    Now is an ideal time to pursue a role in nursing leadership and management. While no two career paths are alike, the following eight steps offer a rough guide to becoming a nurse leader.

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    Ask To Be the Charge Nurse

    If you’re asked to be the charge nurse, it may be intimidating when you haven’t quite gotten your feet wet. Embrace the challenge! Being the charge nurse is a great chance to demonstrate:

    • check-circleConfidence
    • check-circleAssertiveness
    • check-circleStrong teamwork skills
    • check-circlePreparedness
    • check-circleResponsibility

    Once you feel comfortable in the role, take the initiative and ask to be in charge. Then, request feedback from your coworkers to help pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses.

    Complete Your Master’s in Nursing

    A master’s degree in nursing is ideal for prospective nurse leaders. Master’s programs combine healthcare concepts with leadership and business classes. You can complete a master’s in:

    • check-circleHealth administration
    • check-circleHealthcare management
    • check-circleNurse executive programs

    After completing a master’s degree, you may want to gain more authority in your field by earning leadership and management certifications. Graduates often seek positions like:

    Take Classes

    Good nurse leaders are intellectually well-rounded, stay informed of new developments in the field, and prepared to handle many different challenges.

    Take classes on your own or through your employer that focus on business, ethics, healthcare policy, or finance. These websites also offer business and leadership classes:

    • check-circleUdemy
    • check-circleCoursera
    • check-circleUdacity
    • check-circleEdx
    • check-circleLynda

    Become Six Sigma Certified

    A Lean Six Sigma certification can boost your chances of landing a nursing leadership role and help you excel in the workplace. Based on statistical analysis, Lean Six Sigma is a project management methodology used for quality improvement.

    There are six levels of achievement for completing six sigma training:

    1. White
    2. Yellow
    3. Green
    4. Black
    5. Master black belt
    6. Champion

    While participants are not required to complete all classes, they must take them in order.

    A Six Sigma certification is impressive to employers and can increase your earning potential. According to Salary.com, Six Sigma green belts enjoyed a median annual salary of $107,200 in June 2021.

    Join an Organization

    Nursing organizations, such as the American Nurses Association, offer great ways to network and meet other nurse leaders. Many professional organizations provide:

    • check-circleFree educational classes
    • check-circleMeetups
    • check-circleCareer advice

    Membership in an organization also demonstrates your commitment to education and career advancement.

    Find a Mentor

    There are many benefits to having a nurse mentor. Nothing tops hearing about the professional experiences a mentor has gone through to secure their current position. Mentors can offer guidance and help you shape your career path.

    Choose a mentor who is in a leadership position. You don’t have to follow their exact route, but it does help to know how and where they started.

    Finding a mentor shouldn’t be difficult if you simply ask. Many experienced nurses want to help guide new professionals. Many workplaces and nursing organizations also sponsor mentoring programs.

    Initiate a Project

    You can also demonstrate leadership in nursing by initiating a project on your floor. While many people complain about what is wrong with their units, they rarely offer solutions. Starting a project shows initiative and problem solving skills.

    Here are some tips:

    1. Find a problem on your floor and try to tackle it.
    2. Ask your manager for help securing resources you may need.
    3. Conduct surveys or create a committee of trusted coworkers who can help you complete your project.
    4. Make sure your endeavor features measurable goals.
    5. Highlight your project and its outcomes during your annual review.

    Be Sure to Self-Reflect

    Ask yourself what your intentions are for becoming a nurse leader. Why do you want to serve in a leadership role?

    Nursing is a demanding job, and being a leader can be challenging. Nurse leaders must deal with unique work settings and complex situations as they manage different personalities and job roles.

    Your “why” shouldn’t be because of money, the title, or because you want to tell people what to do. Good nurse leaders take a genuine interest in innovation and improving or changing systems. A leader’s job is to promote their facility’s vision and mission by empowering teams and recognizing each team member’s strengths.

    Remember your intentions, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Being a great nurse leader takes time, patience, and the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.