Nine signs that you’re ready to take on a nursing leadership role

February 21, 2020

The nursing profession needs new leaders. In the years to come, that need is likely to grow.

Researchers project that one million registered nurses will retire by 2030, because the average age of registered nurses are 51, according to the National Nursing Workforce Study. Those facts, combined with the ongoing nursing shortage, have created both the need and opportunity for more nurses to step into leadership roles.

JoAnn Manty remembers when she first knew she was ready to take on a nursing leadership role.

She was 25 years old and working as a staff nurse at a hospital in Michigan. A new pediatric physician had been hired, and Manty was asked to write up policies and procedures for the new pediatric unit of the hospital. She gladly took on the assignment and completed the task. However, when her performance evaluation came up, her supervisor evaluated her as a head nurse because of the work she had done on developing those policies and procedures. Manty knew she had to advocate for herself.

“I went to the director of nursing and flat out said, ‘If I’m going to be evaluated as a head nurse because I’m doing the work of a head nurse, then I should be a head nurse,’” recalls Manty, DNP, MSN, CDE, who is now a core graduate nursing faculty member with Capella University. “That did the trick. She named me head nurse for the pediatric unit right then and there.”

Today, with nearly 40 years of various nurse leadership roles under her belt, Manty shares nine signs that a nurse may be ready to step into leadership.

1. You’re already doing the job – As in Manty’s case, a nurse is likely ready to take on a leadership role if they’re already doing the job of a nurse leader. Are your peers coming to you for advice and work direction? Are you making strategic decisions beyond your specific role? If so, it’s likely time to advocate for yourself.

“People may value and appreciate what you are doing, but if you don’t raise your hand and ask to be formally recognized for your leadership, it may not happen,” Manty says. “In other words, don’t wait for leadership to be bestowed upon you. When you’re ready, especially if you’re already doing the job, stand up for yourself and ask for that promotion.”

2. You’ve accepted that you’re not perfect, but you know you’re good – True leadership is not believing you have all the answers, but having the wisdom and experience to ask the right questions, Manty says. Having the maturity to know you can’t do it all and possessing the ability to inspire a broader team to fill in the gaps is a sign you may be ready to take on a nursing leadership role.

“Leadership is not about perfection; it’s about the experience,” Manty explains. “Every nurse leader has to rely on his or her team. When you’ve realized that, and developed those active listening skills and ability to be a true critical-thinker, you are ready to lead others.”

3. You have the right level of education and credentials – Some may consider having earned the appropriate degrees and credentials to be table stakes for a nurse leader, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that they are critically important. Nurses simply must demonstrate that they have the competencies to do the job, and that is particularly important when leading others. Possessing an undergraduate or graduate degree from a respected nursing degree program is a key component to making the case you are ready to lead.

4. You have the emotional maturity to do the job – Nursing can be hard. Every nurse knows that. It’s a profession that is ultimately incredibly rewarding, but the day-to-day stress is real. Nurse leaders must have the emotional maturity and stability to make tough decisions while still leading their teams in a highly pressured environment.

“A nurse leader must be able to evaluate issues and people objectively and make quick, fact-based decisions,” Manty says. “But they must also be able to make those hard decisions with heart. A nurse leader doesn’t need to be cold and unfeeling. The best leaders exude warmth and compassionately along with that ability to make difficult decisions.”

5. You’re getting cues from your peers and managers that you’re ready – A sure sign that a nurse may be ready to take on a leadership role is when clear cues are coming from peers and managers that it is time. Those cues can include co-workers flat out telling you that you would make a great leader or subtler signs, such as peers consistently asking for help or perspective on issues that need a leadership point of view.

6. You can see the bigger picture – One of the most foundational tenets of leadership is the ability to see beyond yourself and your contribution. True leaders have a broader vision and always keep that vision front and center, for themselves and their teams.

7. You know how to get the job done – Health care organizations can be incredibly complex. Nurses can navigate the bureaucratic blizzard and are able to secure both the resources they need and the buy-in they require, are the nurses you want leading a team.

8. You are a change agent – If nothing else, leadership is about guiding people and organizations through change. As the saying goes, change is constant, and nowhere is that truer than in health care. Nurses who are not afraid of change and welcome the opportunities that change can represent nurses that will thrive in a leadership role.

9. You don’t need to be liked – but you expect respect – As with any leadership role, a nurse leader can’t please everyone all the time. That shouldn’t be the goal. Consequently, nurse leaders should have thick skin. Yes, a good leader is open to new ideas and can take in differing points of view, but ultimately, decisions have to be made. If a nurse is thoughtful and fair in making decisions and stands by those decisions in the face of disagreement, that nurse is well-positioned to lead.

“Being a nurse leader is not about making everyone happy, that will never happen,” Manty says. “Leadership is about being thoughtful, fair, and keeping the ultimate objective of successfully treating patients front and center for everyone on the team. If you do that, chances are your team will be happy, and you’ll earn the respect you deserve.”

Develop the competencies to take on a nursing leadership role with an online degree in nursing from Capella University.

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