Leadership in Nursing: The Role of DNP-Prepared Nurses

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A smiling DNP sits behind a desk.

As the nursing landscape continues to evolve, nurses have increased opportunities to take on leadership roles in the workplace. From positions ensuring that quality care is delivered in large hospitals, to jobs at clinics where they work autonomously or in collaboration with other health care professionals, nursing professionals have more of a hand in shaping the direction of health care in the U.S. than ever before.

As more states push toward granting advanced practice nurses full practice and prescriptive authority to help ease the ongoing physician shortage, nurse leaders are likely to have even greater influence in the field of health. Consequently, there is high and growing demand for qualified nurse candidates who demonstrate the ability to be effective leaders.

Interested in taking on a career of leadership in nursing? Whether you recently completed your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or have been working in the field for years, you can advance your nursing career and develop as a leader in health care by earning your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

What Is a Nurse Leader?

Nurse leaders oversee various essential functions, processes, and systems within a health care facility to optimize patient care delivery. The elements under a nurse leader’s supervision can include everything from patient records and legal compliance to nursing staff and facility finance. Nurse leaders are also typically tasked with identifying gaps in a health care facility’s patient delivery strategy and making recommendations on how to mitigate them.

The collective duties of an effective nurse leader can create a positive professional atmosphere that minimizes conflict and encourages positivity and teamwork. This can have a substantial impact on a health care facility’s ability to create and execute effective patient-centered care that is proactive and cost-effective for both the patient and the facility. Ultimately, this can boost the potential to improve patient outcomes.

Nursing Leadership and Management Skills

Soft skills — the interpersonal abilities that help you work successfully with others — can be the difference between being successfully hired and being turned away for a role.

A 2019 survey conducted by international talent company Yoh found that 75% of Americans would most likely offer a job to a candidate who had soft skills, but not the ideal qualifications or experience, in situations where a “perfect” candidate wasn’t an option. For nurse leaders, well-developed soft skills can lay the foundation to effectively interact with a wide range of people in a variety of scenarios, from seasoned physicians to new members of the nursing staff.

According to Nurse Advisor, some of the soft skills that mark an effective leader include the following.

  • Communication: As a nurse, you know that communication is an important part of your day. From educating patients to coordinating with coworkers, the ability to articulate information is critical in nursing. This need only increases when you take on a management role and are responsible for managing staff members.
  • Team Building: When you are in a leadership position, it’s critical to help the group of people you oversee become a cohesive unit. Doing so builds dynamic work relationships within a work group, which could in turn help inspire greater opportunities for effective collaboration. This cohesion can ultimately make it easier for your nurse staff to work toward accomplishing the team goals and objectives you set.
  • Adaptability: Health care evolves rapidly. If you’re not prepared to keep up with technological innovations and compliance changes, your facility and team members may lag behind. It’s important to embrace change within the industry or within a facility without fear or hesitation. This can go a long way into inspiring others to do the same.
  • Emotional Intelligence: As a nurse leader, you not only need to keep your own emotions in check, but also ensure your team does the same. This can be accomplished by carefully guiding others to develop their own sense of emotional intelligence and coping skills when the challenging aspects of nursing occur. Doing so will help protect your team members’ overall health and well-being.

The abilities listed above can be developed both through workplace experience and formal education, such as completing an online DNP program.

Three health care providers talk around the admitting desk.

Why Is Leadership Important in Nursing?

Nurses with strong leadership abilities bring steadiness to a field that is constantly in flux due to innovation, legal changes, and many other dynamics. This makes nurse leaders a valuable asset in health care, since these changes tend to have a clear impact on a facility’s ability to deliver quality patient care.

For example, nurse leaders could be tasked with helping staff acclimate to new technology such as telehealth. They may work to ease adoption of a new patient billing system, or play a role in implementing new guidelines to comply with new federal or state mandates.

Leadership positions rarely are handed out on a silver platter. While you may occasionally be given opportunities to take on more responsibility, you can’t always wait for those chances to present themselves. If you want to work toward a management position, take the initiative to ask for additional responsibilities in your workplace to show you are ready and able to lead.

No matter your role, it’s crucial to act like a leader before you actually become one. This does not mean  prematurely usurping power and making decisions that are beyond your pay grade, but it might mean taking the initiative to show a new hire the ropes during a shift, or organizing an event for team bonding. Talk to your manager for ideas. Demonstrating early on that you can become a leader is a sound strategy for boosting your advancement potential.

Further Your Education

If you are ready to pursue a leadership role and want to build on your existing nursing knowledge, consider taking your education — and career — a step farther. Explore earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Leadership degree through the online program at Bradley University.

The DNP program at Bradley offers five tracks: Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Family Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Leadership. Each path offers you the opportunity to take a deeper dive into nursing theory and practice to prepare you for advanced leadership roles in areas such as nursing research, practice improvement, and executive management.

By pursuing higher education, you will not only receive the knowledge and skills to pursue advanced positions, but you also will demonstrate to employers that you are committed to achieving excellence in the field.

Recommended Readings:

Principles of Nursing Leadership: Jobs and Trends

What Is the Average DNP Salary?

When Will a DNP Be Required for Nurse Practitioners?


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

The Daily Beast, “This Policy Change Could Be the Solution to Our Physician Shortage”

Houston Chronicle, “Positive Effects of Leadership on Nursing Practice”

Minority Nurse, “Why Leadership Matters for Nurses”

Nurse Advisor, “7 Essential Nurse Leadership Skills”

Relias, Nursing Leadership: What Is it and Why Is it Important?

Yoh, “In Absence of a Perfect Candidate, 75% of Americans Would Most Likely Choose Soft Skills Over Experience and Qualifications When Making a Hire, Yoh Survey Reveals”