For nursing to be effective and maximize its potential, there must be strong leadership and management in the profession. Nurse leaders and managers serve as role models and influencers in their healthcare organizations. They not only balance costs and monitor productivity but also promote and maintain patient and staff satisfaction. They take it upon themselves to inspire and motivate their colleagues while ensuring a safe and inclusive workplace environment. 

This article explores the knowledge and skills required by nurses who are interested in leadership and management roles. From directly managing and supervising staff to providing and promoting thought leadership, nurse managers and nurse leaders play integral roles in the development of their colleagues’ careers and nursing as a profession. 

What are leadership qualities in nursing?

Effective nurse leaders take a broad, holistic view of their healthcare organization’s overall goals. They know that daily tasks significantly impact those goals, so it’s important to not only view the organization from the top down but also from the bottom up. Taking a holistic approach, which includes seeing the bigger picture, enables nurse leaders to devise solutions to any problems that may exist within their organization. 

The combination of essential nursing, business and leadership skills makes for good leadership and management in nursing. The American Nurses Association (ANA) highlights the following qualities as essential to strong leadership and management in nursing.

Communication and collaboration

These skills can reduce miscommunication, encourage shared decision-making, and provide a sense of working together toward common goals.

Education and quality of practice

Continued professional development allows leaders in nursing to keep pace with the ever-changing healthcare environment while striving for excellence by supporting quality, evidence-based practice.

Environmental health and resource utilization

Leadership in nursing ensures that patient care can be provided effectively in a safe and healthy environment while promoting wellness among all healthcare staff.

Ethics and professional practice evaluation

Influential nurse leaders model ethical practices to guide decisions, display honesty by being accountable for their actions, and evaluate their adherence to professional practice standards.

Professionalism and leadership

Leaders in nursing build vital relationships and collaborate with various healthcare teams on sensitive topics. Using critical thinking skills allows those in nursing leadership roles to analyze decisions impacting the organization. They then clearly explain the rationale in a manner that encourages staff support.

Besides the specific qualities outlined above by the ANA, the following skill sets are essential to nursing leadership and management:

  • Communication skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Leadership skills
  • Teamwork skills
  • Technical skills

Knowing when to use or how to combine skill sets is paramount to achieving and maintaining effective leadership and management in nursing. When using their leadership skills, nurses adopt leadership styles. These range from the ‘autocratic’, such as a nurse who makes quick decisions with little input from employees and excels at task delegation, to the ‘democratic’, such as a nurse who is collaborative and focuses on team success. Each leadership style has its merits. A ‘situational’ leadership style can be very effective, as it is the most adaptable. This style analyzes the situation and determines the approach. Although the situational nurse leader has their virtues, they risk being too pragmatic when the implementation of an organization’s long-term goals is the aim.

The difference between leadership and management in nursing

While it’s fair to say that notions of leadership and management are often used interchangeably, it’s worth noting the differences between leadership and management in nursing. The ANA states: “Nurses can lead from various organizational areas if they project the necessary leadership qualities to influence others.” This suggests that the skills needed to be effective in either a leadership or management role are not mutually exclusive. We can find leadership roles in nursing across departments and organizations at all levels. Actions define a nurse leader, not necessarily their job title or position of authority. 

Examples of leadership in nursing include the following:

  • Seeking out a mentor or becoming one
  • Volunteering for committee roles
  • Becoming involved in the community
  • Taking educational courses
  • Staying up to date on the latest healthcare trends
  • Getting involved in public policy 

Nurses can demonstrate the above examples without being assigned specific leadership positions. Leaders in nursing practice take initiatives to improve nursing practices and outcomes. They provide motivation and inspiration to teams and staff to ensure high-quality practices and encourage better patient care methodologies. 

Nurse management usually involves a more specific, hands-on approach. Nurse managers direct the daily processes and routines of the medical facility in which they work. By instructing nursing staff, they can ensure that best practices and good organization are maintained when providing care to patients. Nurse managers are also responsible for overseeing the hiring, staffing and performance reviews of their teams. 

There are many similarities between nursing leadership and nursing management, but we can make distinctions concerning their respective tasks, roles, education and credentials. It is in these areas that the differences between leadership and management in nursing are best illustrated. 


Nurse leaders set practice standards and policies, starting transformation and change in the medical environment and influencing nursing teams and staff. Nurse managers direct and instruct their teams and departments in their day-to-day nursing duties. A nurse leader aims to implement the vision, mission and long-term objectives of their organization. A nurse manager directs other nurses in patient procedures, treatment and record maintenance, as well as performing those tasks themselves. 


Nurse leaders’ and nurse managers’ respective roles differ similarly to their tasks. A nurse leader’s role is to take the lead on department and facility changes, develop innovative methods to provide better patient care, and set the tone for their organization for accomplishing objectives and aligning with core values. While a nurse manager may perform those leadership roles, their main role is again concerned more with the day-to-day functions of nursing practice. Nurse managers oversee teams and processes, such as reporting and documentation, which are critical for an organization to function smoothly.

Education and credentials

The differences in education and credentials between nurse leaders and nurse managers are the most distinctive. There is a lot of overlap in the tasks performed by a nurse leader and a nurse manager, and the same is true of their roles. The difference in education is relatively simple: students training to become nurse leaders will often study different subjects, disciplines and majors from those training to become nurse managers. The same goes for certification and credentials. The Certification in Executive Nursing Practice often certifies nursing leadership roles, while nursing management credentials often come via the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader certification. 

While management in nursing is mostly associated with the position of nurse manager, leadership in nursing is associated with many job titles, including but not limited to nurse manager, nurse midwife, nurse anaesthetist and nurse practitioner. 

Gain the skills and knowledge needed for leadership and management roles in nursing

If you’re interested in leadership and management roles in nursing, a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program could be the right career path for you to take. With Wilkes University’s online DNP programs, you can maximize your potential to be a nurse leader by achieving the terminal degree for advanced practice registered nurses. 

Wilkes University’s post-master’s DNP program gives you the opportunity to learn the essential skills and highest level of nursing expertise required to work in a clinical setting or in a leadership role. There are 10 courses in the DNP program, and these are completed over the course of six terms, which is less than two years of schooling. Apart from nursing clinical and residencies, all coursework is 100% online, granting you a higher degree of flexibility. 

You’re eligible to apply for the DNP program if you hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a 3.0 GPA. You will also need to supply official transcripts from your master’s degree and post-graduate/APRN certificate-granting institutions. You must also be licensed as a registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), where appropriate.

DNP vs. PhD programs

Whereas a PhD in nursing is research-focused, a DNP is practice-focused. The DNP program objective is to prepare nurse leaders at the highest level of nursing practice to improve patient outcomes. Rather than developing new nursing knowledge and scientific inquiry, the program orients students toward improving the outcomes of patient care and population health. With your DNP degree, you can make real-world contributions to healthcare improvements via practice, policy change and practice scholarship. You will also receive accreditation from a nursing accreditor. 

The subjects you can study with Wilkes University’s online DNP program

A sample of the Wilkes University online DNP curriculum includes Nursing Informatics, Biostatistics, Ethical Principles for Advanced Nursing Practice and Application of Nursing Research. There are also two elective DNP program practicums that prepare students as experts in a specific area for advancing nursing practice for the final DNP project. 

Outcomes of the DNP program

Advanced nursing practice involves the strategic application of scientific inquiry, innovation and technology. As leaders in this field, nurses play a pivotal role in integrating and disseminating knowledge to enhance the quality of healthcare. They advocate for improved patient and population health outcomes and actively engage in shaping healthcare policies. Furthermore, advanced practice nurses are at the forefront of applying scholarship and research to address the nation’s complex health challenges, effectively translating evidence-based research into clinical practice.

Why are leadership and management important in nursing?

Leadership and management are important in nursing for a variety of reasons. Nurse leaders and nurse managers both play essential roles in improving, ensuring and delivering high-quality patient healthcare. 

Nurse leaders are at the forefront of driving positive changes in healthcare legislation. When they lead by example, nurses in leadership roles can boost morale and promote safe, inclusive workplaces while also promoting the wellbeing of their colleagues. This, in turn, leads to higher job satisfaction and retention rates. Nurse leaders focus on seeing the bigger picture. The best nurse leaders are adept at communicating their organization’s vision to the nursing staff. They also act as mentors to the next generation of nurse leaders.

Nurse managers focus their attention on ensuring that patients receive the most appropriate and highest-quality care and also find ways to improve day-to-day procedures. One of their primary aims is to make sure that their department is running as smoothly as possible. They provide supervision and training to nursing staff as needed. They are sometimes also responsible for budgeting their department, hiring, staffing, performance reviews and liaising with stakeholders. 

Nurse leaders and nurse managers certainly share a lot of qualities, but their credentials, educational backgrounds, roles and tasks differ significantly. Regardless of the similarities and differences between leadership and management, there is no doubt that both function as essential components in nursing. It is possible to make a real difference to a healthcare organization and its patients in a nursing leadership or management role.